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Design and performance of the Yele asphalt-core

rockfill dam
Weibiao Wang, Kaare Höeg, and Yingbo Zhang

Abstract: The planning, design, and performance of the Yele asphalt-core rockfill dam in Sichuan Province, China, are
presented. The dam has a maximum height of 124.5 m, is located in a very seismic region with inclement climate, and is
founded on a geologically complex foundation, partly resting on a deep and pervious alluvial overburden and partly on
bedrock. With these site conditions only an embankment-type dam was considered feasible, and three different options
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were considered for the design of the impervious barrier: (i) earth core, (ii) concrete facing, and (iii) asphalt core. The
third option was chosen. The design is based on extensive analyses and laboratory tests, and a special model test was per-
formed to study the behavior of the connection between the narrow asphalt core and concrete plinth. An impoundment test
was performed when the dam was 73 m high to test the imperviousness of the constructed core and the connections be-
tween (i) the core and plinth and (ii) the plinth and foundation cut-off wall. An extensive field monitoring program was
implemented. Design predictions are compared with field performance observations of the core and its interaction with the
adjacent transition zones.
Key words: embankment dam, asphalt core, laboratory tests, finite element analyses, dam deformations, field monitoring.
Résumé : La planification, la conception et la performance du barrage de Yele dans la province de Sichuan en Chine sont
présentées dans cet article. Le barrage en remblai rocheux de Yele, avec noyau bitumineux et une hauteur maximum de
124,5 m, est localisé dans une région de très haute sismicité et sous un climat inclément. Le barrage est porté sur une fon-
dation géologiquement complexe, en partie sur une couche épaisse et perméable d’alluvions et en partie sur du roc. Sous
For personal use only.

ces conditions, la seule alternative faisable était un barrage en remblai. Trois options ont été considérées pour la concep-
tion de la barrière imperméable : (i) un noyau en terre, (ii) un revêtement de béton et (iii) un noyau bitumineux. Cette der-
nière solution a été retenue. Le dimensionnement est basé sur de nombreuses analyses et essais en laboratoire, ainsi que
sure une modélisation expérimentale particulière du comportement de l’interface entre le mince noyau central et la plinthe
de béton. Un essai de mise en eau a été fait quand le barrage a atteint une hauteur de 73 m afin de tester l’imperméabilité
du noyau bitumineux, et les interfaces noyau–plinthe et plinthe–mur de fondation. Un programme extensif d’observations
a aussi été adopté. Les prédictions faites lors de la conception sont comparées avec le comportement in situ du noyau et
de ses interactions avec les zones de transition adjacentes.
Mots-clés : barrage en remblai, noyau bitumineux, essais de laboratoire, éléments finis, barrage, observations in situ.

Introduction will be the highest so far. Spain, Saudi-Arabia, and Iran re-
The first embankment dam with a compacted asphalt con- cently built their first such dams. Canada just completed an
crete core was built in Germany in 1961–1962, and The In- asphalt-core dam, the first of its kind in North America (Ali-
ternational Journal on Hydropower & Dams (Saxegaard cescu et al. 2008), and Hydro Québec has decided to con-
2010) provides a listing of asphalt-core dams that have been struct several more embankment dams of this type in the
built or are under construction in different countries. The In- Province of Quebec (La Romaine project). Brazil is cur-
ternational Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) and others rently completing its first asphalt-core dam (Foz de Cha-
have summarized the experience with the design, construc- peco), and several dams of this type are being considered
tion, and performance of this type of dam (e.g., ICOLD for a very large hydropower development in the Amazon re-
1992; Höeg 1993; Creegan and Monismith 1996; Schönian gion.
1999; Höeg et al. 2007; Wang 2008). This paper presents the design and performance of the
Most asphalt-core dams have been built in Europe, but Yele asphalt-core rockfill dam in China, describes the chal-
China has also built and is currently building several dams lenging site conditions and the studies performed to ensure
of this type, among them the 170 m high Quxue Dam that the quality of the asphalt core and its connection with the
concrete plinth, and evaluates the performance of the core
Received 11 May 2009. Accepted 22 March 2010. Published on based on field monitoring. Construction started in April
the NRC Research Press Web site at cgj.nrc.ca on 16 November 2001 and was completed in December 2005.
W. Wang1 and Y. Zhang. Xi’an University of Technology, 5 Yele Dam site conditions
Jinhua South Road, 710048 Xi’an, China. The Yele hydro project, on the very upper reach of the
K. Höeg. Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI), P.O. Box Nanya River in the southwest of Sichuan Province, is one
3930 Ullevaal Stadion, NO-0806, Oslo, Norway.
of six projects in a cascade development for electricity gen-
1Corresponding author (e-mail: wangweibiao59@hotmail.com). eration. The river is 49.5 km long with a hydraulic drop of

Can. Geotech. J. 47: 1365–1381 (2010) doi:10.1139/T10-028 Published by NRC Research Press
1366 Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 47, 2010

1714 m and an exploitable hydropower potential estimated considered difficult to protect the upstream slope from dam-
to be 700 MW. The topography of the Yele basin is well age by sudden heavy rains during the dam construction pe-
suited for building a reservoir with a catchment of 323 km2. riod. Furthermore, the impounding could not commence
The annual mean river flow is 14.5 m3/s, which is composed until the dam with a concrete face was completed. This was
mainly of rainfall, snowmelt, and groundwater. The river ba- a disadvantage at the Yele site, where the reservoir would
sin planning includes a Yele balancing reservoir for year- take a long time to fill as the rate of annual river flow is
over-year storage and the following power stations: Yele low. The core for an ACRD may be constructed during peri-
(installed capacity of 240 MW), Liziping (120 MW), Yao- ods of rain and cold weather. During heavy rains, the as-
heba (123 MW), Nanguaqiao (120 MW), Ximagu (42 MW), phalt mix is stored in hot silos. When the heavy rain stops,
and Daduhebian (60 MW). Therefore, the Yele reservoir the asphalt-core construction can be restarted immediately
will play a very important role in the Nanya River cascade after cleaning and heating the asphalt surface, without the
development. long delay associated with the earth core. An infrared heater
At Yele the winter season is 6 to 7 months long and the is mounted in the front of the core paver.
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rainy season is from May to October. Annually there are The CFRD requires a longer concrete plinth than the
about 215 rainy days with a mean rainfall of 1830 mm and ACRD, and if large differential settlements occur, leakage
air relative humidity of 86%. The annual mean temperature may develop in the joints between the slabs and in perimeter
is 7 8C, ranging from –20 to +28 8C. joints due to rupture of water stops. At the Yele site, such
Figure 1 shows the geological conditions along the longi- settlements could be caused by the nonuniform geological
tudinal section of the dam (Yu 2004; Hao and He 2008). foundation conditions and severe earthquakes, which may
The deep overburden from the bottom to the top may be cause large in-plane stresses in the concrete face. On the
classified into the following five groups: other hand, the ACRD with a central asphalt concrete core,
(1) Q21I and Q22I — gravel with thin silty sand layers. if properly designed, is considered sufficiently flexible and
(2) Q31II — overconsolidated and stiff cohesive soil contain- ductile to be able to accommodate differential settlements
ing a significant amount of stones, but with low perme- without cracking.
ability; thickness of 31–46 m. For the site and environmental conditions at Yele, the
(3) Q32–1III — gravel with layers of loam; thickness of 46– ECRD was estimated to cost approximately 10% more than
For personal use only.

154 m. the ACRD, while the CFRD was estimated to cost around
(4) Q32–2IV — gravel; thickness of 65–85 m. 10% less than the ACRD. Among the three options, all as-
(5) Q32–3V — sandy silt layers with carbonized plant frag- pects considered, the ACRD was selected as the most suit-
ments; thickness of 90–107 m. able (Hao and He 2003).
At the start of the preliminary design of the Yele Dam in
On the left bank, under the 35–60 m overburden, there is 1990, there were only a few asphalt-core dams of similar
fractured and jointed quartz diorite bedrock as shown in height: the High Island West and East Dams in Hong Kong
Fig. 1. The overburden is 55–160 m deep under the bottom (95 and 105 m, respectively), the Finstertal dam in Austria
of the valley and more than 220 m deep on the right bank. (150 m, but with a core height of only 96 m due to a rock
ridge under the core), and the Storvatn Dam in Norway
Dam type selection and design (90 m). In 1990 the Storglomvatn Dam (125 m high) in Nor-
For the difficult geological foundation conditions with an way was in the final design stage (construction was com-
irregular and compressible overburden and with the high re- pleted in 1997) long before the start of construction of the
gional seismicity, only an embankment-type dam was con- Yele Dam (Höeg et al. 2007). However, the Yele Dam was
sidered feasible. Three options were examined for the to be designed and built for a site with much more complex
impervious barrier in a rockfill dam: (i) earth core (ECRD), foundation conditions than any of the previous dams and is
(ii) upstream concrete facing (CFRD), and (iii) asphalt core located in a region with much higher seismicity.
(ACRD). To decide among these options, emphasis was Figure 2 shows the maximum area cross section of the
placed on costs, sensitivity to severe weather conditions dur- Yele Dam. The asphalt core in that cross section is 120 m
ing construction, earthquake resistance, and compatibility high and the total dam height 124.5 m. Figure 3 shows a
with the geological conditions that may cause significant plan view of the dam with the locations of cross-sections
differential settlements across the valley. A–G shown, and Fig. 4 shows a longitudinal section giving
Höeg et al. (2007) provides a general discussion of the the locations of the same cross sections. As designed, the
relative merits of the three options. In the rainy and cold Yele asphalt-core rockfill dam has a crest length of 411 m
Yele area at high altitude (crest elevation (el.) 2654.5 metres with a 300 m long seepage cut-off wall extension over the
above sea level (m.asl.)), the water content of the earth core right bank. Due to the very high seismicity of the region (Si-
material in the local borrow was 10% more than that re- chuan Province) with an assumed peak horizontal ground
quired for optimum compaction. It would be difficult and acceleration of 0.45g2 at the Yele site, the dam is designed
time-consuming to reduce the water content, and core place- with gentle slopes of 1V:2H upstream (where V represents
ment would have to be stopped during the frequent rainy pe- vertical and H represent horizontal) and 1V:2.2H
riods. For the CFRD option, the concrete slabs would be downstream, and a wide crest (14 m). In addition, as an
placed after the upstream slope was completed, and it was earthquake-resistant measure, geo-grids3 were placed hori-
2 See Appendix A.
3 See Appendix B.

Published by NRC Research Press

Wang et al. 1367

Fig. 1. Geological cross section of the Yele Dam foundation and abutments. 1, gravel with silty sand layers; 2, stiff, overconsolidated co-
hesive soils with stones; 3, gravel with layers of loam; 4, gravel; 5, sandy soil with loam and carbonized plant fragments; 6, quartz diorite
bedrock; 7, crevice–lineament. W.L., water level.
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Fig. 2. Cross section of the Yele Dam (this is section D as shown in Figs. 3 and 4). All dimensions in metres. 1, asphalt core; 2, transition
zone; 3, rockfill (I); 4, rockfill (II); 5, natural gravel or rockfill (III); 6, toe berm (22 m in thickness and 215 m in length); 7, observation
gallery for field instrumentation; 8, concrete cut-off wall. (There is no grout curtain under section D, see Fig. 5.)

zontally to reinforce the top 30 m of the dam (from el. seepage. The foundation barriers may be divided into three
2624.5 m.asl. to the dam crest at el. 2654.5 m.asl.). Within main sections from the left to the right bank: left bank bar-
the upper 20 m, the vertical height difference between the rier section, river bed barrier section, and right bank barrier
geo-grids is 1 m and within the lower 10 m is 2 m. Further- section. After excavating the top of the overburden at the
more, to strengthen the lower part of the upstream dam left bank, a 20–60 m deep concrete cut-off wall was con-
slope against large deformations and potential sliding during structed through the overburden, down to the sloping diorite
an earthquake, 40 m long geo-grids were placed horizontally bedrock. A grout curtain was injected into the quartz diorite
from the upstream dam face between el. 2594 m.asl. and el. through the concrete cut-off wall. A 150 m long and 80 m
2603 m.asl. The vertical height difference between these deep grout curtain was injected into the quartz diorite from
geo-grids is 1.5 m. the construction gallery (No. 7 shown on the left side of
Fig. 5). For the river bed overburden, a 30–60 m deep con-
Design and construction of impervious crete cut-off wall was brought 5 m down into the relatively
impervious soil layer Q31II shown in Fig. 1. For the right
barriers in the Yele dam foundation bank, the overburden is so deep that the water barriers had
Figure 5 shows the complex system of impervious barriers to be built in four stages. The upper first barrier is the 15 m
installed in the foundation to reduce and control the under- high concrete wall extension built in the open excavation;

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1368 Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 47, 2010

Fig. 3. Plan view of Yele Dam and location of monitoring instruments. 1, displacement bolts; 2, observation gallery; 3, piezometers; 4,
access galleries; 5, drainage gallery; 6, grouting gallery; 7, observation huts. Locations of cross-sections A–G are also shown in Fig. 4.
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Fig. 4. Longitudinal section of the asphalt core for Yele Dam showing locations of cross-sections A–G (see also Fig. 3).

the second barrier is the concrete cut-off wall with a depth (1) Suitability of aggregates of local quartz diorite and local
of 70 m down to the top of the second level construction natural sands.
gallery; the third is the 60–84 m deep concrete cut-off wall (2) Optimum asphalt mix design with the available aggre-
installed from the second level construction gallery, and the gates, filler materials, and bitumen grade.
fourth is the grout curtain with a maximum depth of 120 m (3) Triaxial compression stress–strain–strength behaviour of
installed through the concrete cut-off wall. For more details alternative mix designs.
about the very complex system of cut-off walls and grout
(4) Testing of tensile, bending, and creep behavior of the as-
curtains, an extremely demanding task, refer to Chen (2003)
phalt mix.
and Hao and He (2008).
(5) Resistance of asphalt concrete to cyclic loading simulat-
ing earthquake shaking.
Asphalt-core design investigations The quartz diorite quarry is located 3 km downstream of
After the asphalt-core option was selected in the early de- the dam site nearby an access road, while a dolomite quarry
sign stage, a special test program was prepared to study the is located in the reservoir area 16 km upstream of the dam
following aspects in more detail (Sun and Wang 1994): site. A special access road would have to be built to use the

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Wang et al. 1369

Fig. 5. Water barriers in the Yele Dam foundation. All dimensions in metres. 1, crest; 2, asphalt core; 3, ground surface; 4, excavation line;
5, concrete cut-off wall; 6, grout curtain; 7, construction gallery used for construction of grout curtain and concrete cut-off wall; 8, concrete
cut-off wall extension built in the open excavation.
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dolomite quarry. Dolomite is alkaline and has very good ad- An additional test program was undertaken to focus on
hesion to bitumen (grade 5, Chinese boiling test, standard the effects of shear displacements causing possible leakage
DL/T 5362-2006 (People’s Republic of China National De- at the joint between the asphalt core and the concrete plinth
velopment and Reform Commission 2006)). It is considered (Wang and Sun 1997, 1999). Special attention was given to
to be very suitable as an aggregate in asphalt concrete. the mix proportions of the sandy asphalt mastic placed on
For personal use only.

Quartz diorite is slightly acidic and therefore has weaker ad- the core–plinth interface.
hesion to bitumen (grade 4). However, as shown by Wang et Figure 6 shows the design of the critical asphalt core–
al. (2010), for hydraulic asphalt concrete with air poros- plinth connection and the top of the concrete cut-off wall in
ity <3%, somewhat poorer aggregate–bitumen adhesion has the foundation. A model (1:10 scale) was built to test the
no significant effects on the stress–strain–strength behaviour core–plinth interface when it was subjected to shear dis-
and weathering resistance. Therefore, aggregates from the placements in the downstream direction and high water pres-
quartz diorite quarry were considered satisfactory, and this sure (Fig. 7). The asphalt core in the model was 240 mm
was a much more economical solution. wide at the bottom, 120 mm wide at the top, and 330 mm
Hydraulic asphalt to be used in a dam core should be vir- in height. The asphalt mastic layer between the core and the
tually impervious, flexible, and workable. The aggregate concrete slab was 20 mm thick. The mastic mix consisted of
composition complies with Fuller’s gradation curve im- bitumen type AH-70, limestone filler, and river sand in the
proved with a fine grain component smaller than 0.075 mm proportions 1:2:1, respectively. The core–plinth connection
(filler material) (Höeg 1993). To ensure very low permeabil- model tests were run at a temperature of 7 8C.
ity (about 10–11 m/s), the air porosity in the dam core should As shown in Fig. 7, the water pressure at the interface be-
be less than 3% (Höeg 1993; Wang and Höeg 2009). Triax- tween the asphalt concrete core and the concrete plinth was
ial compression tests should be carried out under different kept at 0.3 MPa (i.e., 30 m of head) during most of the test.
confining stresses to assure that the asphalt concrete exhibits The vertical stress at the base of the asphalt core in the Yele
flexible and ductile (not strain-softening) behaviour required Dam design was computed by finite element analyses to be
to adjust to dam deformations caused by static and dynamic 1.65 MPa. The vertical stress applied in the model was in-
loads and differential foundation settlements. For the Yele creased gradually up to 1.65 MPa within 30 min. Then the
Dam asphalt core, the bitumen content (type AH-70 in Chi- concrete slab (plinth) was pushed horizontally. The shear
nese standard DL/T 5411-2009 (People’s Republic of China stress required to make the slab move relative to the base of
National Energy Administration 2009)) is 6.3% by total the core was 0.6 MPa, and the slab displacement rate was
weight and the filler content is 12%. About 30% of the fine then kept at 0.1 mm/min. The resulting shear stress on the
aggregates (2.36–0.075 mm) consist of natural sands mastic layer was increased from 0.6 to 1.35 MPa during the
(rounded particles) to improve the workability of the asphalt shearing process. After 200 min of testing, the vertical dis-
concrete. placement of the core and horizontal displacement at the in-
Many of the details of these experimental studies and test terface were 17.4 and 20.5 mm, respectively. No leakage
results are reported by Wang (2008), who investigated the was detected even when the water pressure was increased
permeability of asphalt concrete as a function of imposed from 0.3 to 1.0 MPa at the end of the test. The slab was
shear strains. Two-and three-dimensional finite element then pushed at 1 mm/min to reach a shear displacement of
analyses to study stresses, strains, and deformations in dif- 22 mm, i.e., 9% of the core thickness. This was the maxi-
ferent embankment zones were also performed.4 mum shear displacement the model allowed. No leakage
4 See Appendix C.

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1370 Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 47, 2010

Fig. 6. Structural connection between the asphalt core and concrete dams had been completed in China, most of them were
plinth (all dimensions in metres; left side of figure is upstream, small and the cores had been constructed manually or with
right is downstream). 1, asphalt core; 2, transition zone; 3, 1–2 cm simple and improvised equipment. There was a lack of ex-
thick sandy asphalt mastic; 4, geo-membrane covering foundation pertise and available modern equipment to build large as-
to upstream dam toe; 5, silt; 6, filter and drainage layer; 7, concrete phalt-core dams. However, at the time, the asphalt core for
cut-off wall; 8, reinforced concrete plinth; 9, foundation overbur- the Maopingxi Dam (part of the Three Gorges Project) with
den. a height of 105 m was under construction using a modern
asphalt-core paver purchased from the Norwegian contractor
Kolo Veidekke a.s.
The Yele asphalt-core construction presented a special
challenge because of the cold and rainy weather and a very
tight construction schedule. A Chinese asphalt paver was
built and construction procedures were developed for plac-
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ing the asphalt core during the night and at air temperatures
down to –5 8C. The design of the asphalt-core paver was
made very similar to the Norwegian one used for placing
the Maopingxi Dam asphalt core (Höeg 1993). Several job
trials were undertaken before asphalt-core construction
started. The asphalt-core paver places simultaneously the as-
phalt core and the adjacent supporting transition zones. The
total width that could be placed by the new paver was
3.8 m; thus, the transition zones on either side of the core
were each 1.3 m wide at the bottom and 1.6 m wide at the
top. The core and adjacent transition zones were built up
and compacted in 26 cm thick layers (compacted thickness).
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During dam construction, the core top elevation was at all

times above that of the embankment rockfill and did not
slow down the rapid construction progress. The Yele as-
phalt-core construction was started in November 2003 and
was completed in November 2005. Systematic quality con-
trol of the asphalt core was carried out throughout the con-
struction period to ensure that the air porosity of the asphalt
concrete in place was less than the specified 3%, which
gives a virtually impervious core (Höeg 1993). Zones, com-
paction specifications, and quality control for the Yele Dam
are shown in Table 1.
Figure 8 shows the progress of dam construction and im-
was detected during the model testing desspite the large im- pounding until October 2007, and the operation until No-
posed shear strains. The vertical stress, shear stress, vertical vember 2008 is shown in the first figure in the section titled
displacement, and shear displacement versus time for the ‘‘Field performance observations of the asphalt core’’. The
model test are shown in Fig. 7. When the model was re- Yele Dam embankment construction started in April 2001
moved from the testing apparatus, some of the mastic was and in December 2004 the dam reached el. 2603 m.asl.,
discovered to have extruded, and the mastic layer thickness which is 51.5 m below the crest of the dam (el.
had reduced to 12 mm from the initial 20 mm. However, no 2654.5 m.asl.). In January 2005 a special impounding test
cracks or fissures were detected at the core–plinth interface was started. At that time the water level was at el.
(Chu et al. 2004). The test results showed that the behavior 2552 m.asl. behind the upstream cofferdam, as shown in
at the interface was satisfactory even for shear distortions Fig. 8. After one month of impounding, the water level was
much larger than anticipated in the field. raised 35.5 m (to el. 2587 m.asl.). Then the water was low-
ered to its original level at el. 2552 m.asl. Observations were
made of the pore-water pressures on the downstream side of
Dam construction and simultaneous
the core, of the deformations of the core, and of the strains in
reservoir impounding the concrete plinth and cut-off wall during the raising and
The vertical core wall, located 3.7 m upstream of the dam lowering of the reservoir while the embankment height was
centerline, was designed to be 1.20 m wide at the bottom kept constant at el. 2603 m.asl. The pore-water pressures on
and decreasing gradually to 0.60 m at the top (el. the downstream side of the core wall were measured to be
2653 m.asl.). The base of the core is flared out against the close to zero during the impounding test, and the deforma-
plinth to a width of 2.40 m at the core–plinth interface. Sim- tions of the asphalt core and the strains in the concrete plinth
ilarly, the core is flared out against the plinth at the abut- and cut-off wall were very small (see later discussion of per-
ments to twice the core width at that elevation. formance observations). On 9 March 2005 the reservoir
Although before the year 2000 more than 10 asphalt-core water level was raised again and reached el. 2634 m.asl. on

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Wang et al. 1371

Fig. 7. Model test to study behaviour of core–plinth interface when subjected to interface shear displacement and high water pressure.
(a) Model of the asphalt core–plinth connection. (b) Measured stresses and displacements versus time for the 1:10 scale model of the asphalt
core–plinth connection. Disp., displacement.
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26 October 2005. The embankment reached the crest eleva- deformations, seepage through the core, foundation and
tion 2654.5 m.asl. in December 2005. abutments, water pressures in the abutments and foundation,
During operation and power generation the first year, the stresses and strains in the asphalt core, in the concrete plinth
water level dropped to el. 2600 m.asl., but rose again to el. and in the cut-off wall, temperatures inside the core, and ac-
2642.5 m.asl. by 12 December 2006 (see Fig. 8). On 23 celerations during any earthquake shaking (Chen 2003;
April 2007 the water level had dropped to el. 2609 m.asl., NRBHDC 2007; Chen et al. 2009).
but on 23 October 2007 it rose again to el. 2648 m.asl.,
which is 2 m below full supply water level at el. Measured dam surface displacements during and after
2650 m.asl. During construction, impounding and operation construction
of the dam was monitored by means of a comprehensive in- Figure 3 shows the arrangement of displacement observa-
strumentation system as described below. tion bolts on the dam surface. The 99 bolts are installed
along seven longitudinal lines, one on the upstream slope,
Dam monitoring and performance two on the dam crest, one on the top of core, and three on
the downstream slope. The horizontal distance between bolts
observations is 50 m, corresponding to cross-sections B, C, D, E, and F
The monitoring system consists of measuring dam body shown on Figs. 3 and 4. The geodetic surveys for displace-

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1372 Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 47, 2010

Table 1. Zoning, compaction specifications and quality control for Yele Dam (standards SL274-2001 (The Ministry of Water Resources of
the People’s Republic of China 2002) and DL/T 5411-2009 (People’s Republic of China National Energy Administration 2009)).

Layer Compaction by
Zone (see Fig. 2) Material thickness (m) vibratory roller Quality control
Asphalt core Bitumen AH-70, aggregate (0–20 mm) 0.20–0.26 8 passes, 1.5 t Air porosity < 3.0%
Transition zone A Gravel (0–80 mm, grain size < 5 mm passing 20%– 0.20–0.26 4 passes, 2 t Dry density ‡ 20.6 kN/m3,
1.3–1.6 m 40%; grain size < 0.075 mm passing ⬉ 10% porosity ⬉ 20%
Transition zone B Gravel (0–150 mm, grain size < 5 mm passing 0.20–0.26 4 passes, 2 t Porosity ⬉ 22%
2.0–4.0 m 10%–20%; grain size < 0.075 mm passing ⬉ 3%
Shoulder (I) Quarried rock (0–800 mm) 1.0–1.2 8 passes, 20 t Dry density ‡ 21.9 kN/m3,
porosity ⬉ 24%
Shoulder (II) Quarried rock (0–800 mm) 1.0–1.2 8 passes, 20 t Dry density ‡ 22.5 kN/m3,
porosity ⬉ 22%
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Shoulder (III) Natural gravel or quarried rock (0–800 mm) 1.0–1.2 8 passes, 20 t Dry density ‡ 21.1 kN/m3,
porosity ⬉ 22% (upstream),
24% (downstream)
Toe berm Rock debris (0–1200 mm) 1.0–1.2 8 passes, 20 t Dry density ‡ 19.6 kN/m3

Fig. 8. Progress of dam construction and reservoir impounding. tion). The maximum settlement (combination of construction
(Note: the reservoir was held back by the upstream cofferdam be- and post-construction settlements) is 60 mm between cross-
fore the impounding test started at el. 2552 m.asl.) sections D and E. It should be noted that the bolt displace-
ments at the lower berm have been measured since 12 No-
vember 2005 (when installed) and at the higher berm since
15 February 2006.
Post-construction displacement observations at the top of
the core (3.7 m upstream of the dam centerline), upstream
crown points, and downstream crown points were started on
For personal use only.

21 June 2006. Unfortunately, this is 0.5 years after the end

of dam construction, so the post-construction displacements
during the first months are not included. The post-construction
displacements recorded on 27 September 2007 are shown
in Fig. 10. The maximum post-construction settlement is
measured to be 45 mm at the upstream crown point in
cross-section E. However, the settlement may actually
have been almost twice that if one were to include the
post-construction settlements during the first 0.5 years after
the end of construction.
During the post-construction observation period until Oc-
ment monitoring used six fixed benchmarks in the vicinity tober 2007, the dam had experienced two cycles of water
of the dam. level rising and lowering of around 40 m (Fig. 8). As shown
Only a few of the dam surface deformation measurements in Fig. 10a, the core crest settlement is 40 mm at section D.
will be discussed, as in this paper the focus is on the behav- The settlement is slightly more at the upstream crown point
iour of the asphalt core and its interaction with the transition and slightly more near the right bank than near the left bank.
zones. As an example, the movements of the bolts on the up- The downstream crown point shows about 10 mm less set-
stream berm at el. 2620 m. asl., a distance of 79 m from the tlement than the core. The post-construction horizontal dis-
vertical dam axis, are shown in Table 2. The settlements have placements of the crown points and top of core are shown
been measured since 25 July 2005 when the dam rockfill was in Fig. 10b. The downstream crown points show more dis-
at el.2627.8 m.asl. After placement of additional rockfill placement than the upstream crown point and the top of the
(26.7 m) to the top of the embankment, and after reservoir core. The maximum is about 27 mm in cross-section D. The
raising and lowering during the construction and operation downstream crown point shows less post-construction settle-
(see Fig. 8), the settlements of the bolts along this berm on ment, but more downstream displacement than the upstream
10 September 2005 and 9 May 2007 are as shown in Table 2. crown point, which agrees with the observations from many
Over the almost 2 year observation period, the measure- other central core rockfill dams (Höeg et al. 2007). This is
ments in Table 1 seem very consistent with the largest set- due to the effects of impounding on the behaviour of the up-
tlement of 82 mm at the maximum section D. On the left stream fill.
bank, the reduction in effective stresses due to impounding Up until January 2009, the dam had experienced three
caused the berm to heave 9 mm. On the right bank with the cycles of water level rising and lowering, and the dam had
deep overburden, the reduction of the effective stresses due been subjected to 10 earthquakes of various magnitudes
to impounding caused the berm to heave 25 mm. (Chen et al. 2009; Zhao et al. 2009). The maximum post-
Figure 9 shows the settlements of the bolts on the down- construction settlement occurred at the upstream point of the
stream berms at el. 2594.5 m.asl. and el. 2624.5 m.asl. at the crest at section D (maximum cross section of the dam), and
end of September 2007 (20 months after end of construc- the value was about 14 cm in June 2008. For comparison,

Published by NRC Research Press

Wang et al. 1373

Table 2. Settlement (settlm.) of bolts on the upstream berm at el.2620 m.asl.

Distance (in m) from dam crest on left bank, el.2654.5 m.asl.

100* 120 (B) 170 (C) 220 (D) 270 (E) 320 (F) 343*
Water level Embankment Settlm. Settlm. Settlm. Settlm. Settlm. Settlm. Settlm.
Date (m.asl.) level (m.asl.) (mm) (mm) (mm) (mm) (mm) (mm) (mm)
25 Jul 2005 2584.5 2627.8 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
10 Sep 2005 2619.3 2637.8 –4 1 23 35 25 6 –14
9 May 2007 2610.1 2654.5 –9 16 52 82 61 33 –25
Note: B, C, D, E, and F refer to section locations shown on Figs. 3 and 4.
*Points located over the left and right banks just inside the embankment.
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Fig. 9. Settlement of bolts on the downstream slope. (Observation Fig. 10. Post-construction settlement and horizontal displacement of
periods: el. 2594.5 m.asl., 12 November 2005 – 30 September crown and top of core. (a) Post-construction settlement at the top of
2007; el. 2624.5 m.asl., 15 February 2006 – 29 September 2007.) the core and the upstream and downstream points on the crown.
(b) Post-construction horizontal displacement in the downstream
direction at the top of the core and the upstream and downstream
points on the crown. (Measurements started 0.5 years after the end
of dam construction.)
For personal use only.

the settlement of the upstream point of the crest for the Stor-
glomvatn asphalt-core rockfill dam, also 125 m high, was
18 cm after the first 2 years of operation (Höeg et al. 2007).
Table 3 shows the settlements of the upstream points of
the crest before and after the Wenchuan earthquake, 12
May 2008. When the Wenchuan earthquake struck, the Yele
reservoir level was near the minimum operating level el.
2600 m.asl. The maximum additional crest settlement during
the earthquake was about 15 mm at section D. The Yele
Dam site is located 258 km from the epicenter of the Wen-
chuan earthquake (magnitude 8.0) and the intensity (Chinese
scale) at the dam site was less than VI (Chen et al. 2009;
Zhao et al. 2009). According to the monitored accelerations
from nine strong-motion seismographs installed on and in
the Yele Dam, the calculated maximum settlement, horizon-
tal displacement (downstream direction), and longitudinal
displacement (along dam axis) of the dam crest induced by
the Wenchuan earthquake were 19, 25, and 17 mm, respec-
tively. The several other earthquakes that have occurred
since the end of construction have had insignificant effects
on the dam.
In summary, the dam surface displacements show uniform very well compacted, and that the alluvial overburden in the
and consistent deformation patterns even after having expe- foundation is less compressible than anticipated.
rienced the Wenchuan earthquake, and the observed settle-
ments are smaller than expected. This must mean that the Measured deformations inside the dam
rockfill and gravel are of high quality, the embankment was Five observation huts on the dam crest and five on the

Published by NRC Research Press

1374 Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 47, 2010

Table 3. Settlements of the upstream points of the crest before and after the Wenchuan earthquake, 12 May 2008.

Distance (in m) from dam crest on left bank el.2654.5 m.asl.

67* 120 (B) 170 (C) 220 (D) 270 (E) 320 (F) 365*
Water level Settlm. Settlm. Settlm. Settlm. Settlm. Settlm. Settlm.
Date (m.asl.) (mm) (mm) (mm) (mm) (mm) (mm) (mm)
25 Apr 2008 2602.0 31.5 88.3 116.1 128.8 128.2 102.9 56.6
19 May 2008 2603.7 32.6 94.1 123.5 143.4 136.0 114.6 58.2
*Points located over the left and right banks outside the embankment.

berms on the downstream slope were constructed (see Fig. 11. Settlement inside the transition zone behind the core at
three cross sections. Observation date 3 August 2007.
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Fig. 3). They are used for collecting all the measurements
of displacements inside the dam. The vertical displacements
inside the dam are obtained by water level settlement gages
and the horizontal displacements by extensometer measure-
ments relative to the movements of the bolts on the observa-
tion huts. The reinforced concrete observation gallery inside
the downstream dam body is located 8 m downstream from
the dam axis. The base slab is at el. 2560 m.asl., 30 m above
the dam plinth, which ensures that it is well above the line
of saturation (see Figs. 2 and 3). The gallery is used to col-
lect measurements of pore pressures in the dam foundation.
The instrumentation leads that collect strain measurements
in the plinth and cut-off wall are routed through a prefabri-
For personal use only.

cated vertical concrete pipe, which is located in the down-

stream shell near the right abutment. The instrumentation
leads that collect measurements taken in the core and transi-
tion zone are routed vertically through the transition zone.
During dam construction, the instrumentation leads were
are shown in Fig. 11. The maximum settlements, including
temporarily protected by vertical steel pipes. the foundation settlements, at sections B, D, and F were
Three vertical pipes with a total of 29 electromagnetic 560, 1060, and 550 mm, respectively. The vertical strain in
rings were installed inside the downstream transition zone the transition zone varied significantly over the height, but
behind the core, to measure local vertical and horizontal dis- the average compressive strains were 0.9%, 1.3%, and 0.8%
placements. The rings were arranged with an individual in the three sections, respectively. The maximum horizontal
height difference of 10 m. displacements in the downstream transition zone in the
Special gages were installed at the upstream and down- downstream direction (normal to the dam axis) at sections
stream interfaces between the core and transition zones to B, D, and F were 30, 207, and 33 mm, respectively. In the
measure differential settlements between the core and transi- longitudinal direction (along the dam axis), the maximum
tion zones at different elevations. The gages were modified displacements towards the right bank in these three sections
joint meters used in concrete structures with one end anch- were 94, –240, and –144 mm, respectively.
ored in the core while the other was fixed in the transition The measurements of strains in the plinth (as of January
zone. The gages were only installed over the lower part of 2009) indicate low values and no cracking has occurred.
the core in each cross section (over the lower 25 m in Strain meters are also installed in the cut-off wall at four
cross-section D and over the lower 15 m in sections B and transverse sections, and the observed results indicate very
F). Vertical strain meters were also installed on the upstream satisfactory performance (Wu et al. 2009; Zhao et al. 2009;
and downstream faces of the core over these same lower Zheng and Wang 2009).
parts to measure strains in the asphalt concrete. Total pres-
sure cells were installed at the bottom of the asphalt core
on top of the plinth near cross-sections A and D. Further-
Field performance observations of the
more, shear displacements were measured by gages installed asphalt core
at the interface between the core and concrete plinth to de- The measured settlement differences between the lower
termine the shear distortions at the interface. part of the asphalt core and the adjacent transition zones,
The structural connection between the asphalt core and re- and the maximum measured compressive strains in the up-
inforced concrete plinth is shown in Fig. 6. Strain meters stream and downstream faces of the core, are shown in Ta-
were mounted on the reinforcing steel in the plinth to meas- ble 4. The observation date is 18 October 2007, when the
ure steel stresses, and there were four lines of optic fibre reservoir level was at el. 2647.5 m.asl. Since then and up to
sensors to monitor potential cracking in the concrete plinth. November 2008, the settlement differences between the core
Observed settlements in the downstream transition zone in and transition zone and the compressive strains in the core
August 2007 (i.e., 19 months after the end of construction) have shown almost no change (Wang and Zheng 2009).

Published by NRC Research Press

Wang et al. 1375

Table 4. Measured settlement differences between the asphalt core and the upstream and downstream
transition zones and measured compressive strains in the core.

Settlement difference between the

core and transition zone (mm)* Compressive strain in the core (%)
Section (m.asl.) Upstream Downstream Upstream face Downstream face
B 2594 59 38 — —
2604.4 7 59 2.9 1.2
2609.5 29 20 — —
D 2534.4 — — — 3.1
2548 20 20 2.5 3.1
2558 48 55 — 2.7
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F 2585 50 40 — —
2595 39 30 — —
2600 39 34 2.6 2.9
*Positive value means that the core has settled more than the transition zone.

The data show that there are large variations in the meas- Zheng 2009). The measured stresses are 90% (section A)
ured differential settlements, but the asphalt core has settled and 70% (section D) of the stresses computed by multiply-
more than the transition zone in all measurements. The maxi- ing the local height of the core with the unit weight of the
mum recorded settlement difference in November 2008 was material above. The stress computed by the finite element
about 60 mm. Figure 12 shows the differential settlement analyses for cross-section D was 1.65 MPa, which is consid-
curves with time at el. 2558 m. asl. in section D. The curves erably less than the measured stress of 2.1 MPa. This means
show that the settlement differences took place during the that the arching effect between the core and the stiffer tran-
For personal use only.

dam construction period, and there is virtually no measured in- sition zones is smaller than that modeled by the finite ele-
crease in differential settlements after the end of construction. ment analyses. This is probably due to the inadequate
Figure 13 shows vertical core strain versus time. The modeling of the viscoelastic–plastic behavior (with tempera-
curves show that around 90% of the asphalt strains took ture and time) of the asphalt core during construction. The
place during the dam construction and impounding period, measured arching effect corresponds to a small average ver-
and there is minimal measured increase in the core strains tical, upward shear stress of around 4 kPa on both sides of
during the subsequent 3 year operation period. The compres- the core. The constitutive modeling of asphalt concrete be-
sive vertical strains on the upstream and downstream sides havior for use in numerical analyses must be improved to
of the asphalt core in the lower 25 m of the core wall in give more reliable analyses in better agreement with field
cross-section D were measured to be 2.5%–3%, while the observations.
average compressive strain in the downstream transition Interesting comparisons may be made between the field
zone over the corresponding height was 1.7%. As shown in measurements from the Yele Dam and the Maopingxi Dam.
the figure, the 12 May 2008 Wenchuan earthquake had in- The Maopingxi asphalt-core dam is 105 m high with a crest
significant effects on the strains in the core. length of 1840 m. The dam was built from 1997 to 2003 and
The temperature of the core is observed with 14 tempera- was extensively instrumented (Xu et al. 2009). The meas-
ture sensors at sections B, D, and F. During the first month ured results, 5 years after end of construction, indicate that
after asphalt concrete placement, the temperature dropped the maximum settlement difference between the core and
from around 160 8C to less than 20 8C and gradually reduced the transition zones was 48 mm, and that occurred 14 m
with time. The temperature at the bottom of section D was above the core base. The vertical strains on the upstream
13.7 8C in December 2004, 12.4 8C in December 2005, and downstream side of the asphalt core are all compressive
9.5 8C in December 2007, and 9.4 8C in November 2008. In with a maximum value of 4%. The compression stress meas-
July 2009, the temperatures at different points in the core ured at the core bottom against the concrete plinth is
were in the range 7.2–12.5 8C (Wang and Zheng 2009). 1.5 MPa for the maximum dam section, which is 60% of
the stress computed by simply multiplying the local height
Evaluation of asphalt core performance of the core with the unit weight of the material above. Shear
displacements at the core–plinth interface normal to the
Interaction between asphalt core and adjacent transition plinth in the downstream direction were measured to be less
zones than 2 mm (Zou et al. 2008). When considering the differ-
The vertical compression stresses measured by the total ences in dam geometry, zoning, and material properties be-
pressure cells at the bottom of the core are 0.65 MPa near tween the Yele Dam and Maopingxi Dam, one may
cross-section A and 2.1 MPa near section D (see Fig. 4). conclude that the measured behaviour of the two asphalt
These values have stayed almost constant from the end of cores seem very consistent with each other.
dam construction (December 2005) to the latest observation It is a difficult task to take measurements of differential
in November 2008, showing only very small variations settlements between the hot core and the adjacent transition
caused by fluctuations in the reservoir level (Wang and zones and to measure strains in the core itself, but it has also

Published by NRC Research Press

1376 Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 47, 2010

Fig. 12. Settlement differences between asphalt core and transition zones versus time at el. 2558 m.asl. at section D. Latest observation date
1 November 2008.
Can. Geotech. J. Downloaded from www.nrcresearchpress.com by on 04/21/11

Fig. 13. Strains at upstream (up) and downstream (down) faces of the core versus time at different heights above the plinth at section D.
Latest observation date 1 November 2008.
For personal use only.

been attempted for some earlier dams. Measurements at at Xi’an University of Technology to study whether condi-
Storvatn Dam, Norway (Adikari et al. 1988), showed tions may arise that potentially could lead to the phenomenon
smaller differential settlements (10–30 mm) than in the of hydraulic fracturing in an asphalt concrete core.
Yele and Maopingxi dams, and in the case of Dhünn Dam,
Germany, there was virtually no measured differential settle- Back-analysis of strains in the core based on measured
ment (Strobl and Schmid 1993). dam and foundation settlements
For earth-core dams there is concern about the arching ef- For a dam resting on a compressible foundation where
fect in the core between the adjacent filter zones and a possi- large differential settlements may occur, whether transverse
bly significant reduction in effective stresses in the core, cracks or fissures may develop through the asphalt-core
which then may crack due to hydraulic fracturing. This is of wall needs to be considered. Differential settlements were
much less concern in a core of ductile asphalt concrete, which definitely a concern for the Yele Dam at the design stage.
also has some tensile strength, and the International Commis- However, the field measurements show that the foundation
sion on Large Dams (ICOLD 1992) states that hydraulic frac- settlements are relatively small, and the settlement profile
turing cannot occur in an asphalt concrete core. In the Yele across the valley is rather gradual and almost symmetrical
Dam core, the total stresses towards the bottom of the core about the centerline of the valley. A simplified back-analysis
are higher than the corresponding water pressures, so the ef- of the shear strains in the core was performed using the ob-
fective stresses are positive. However, in other situations served foundation settlements 2 years after construction.
there may be a concern about hydraulic fracturing. Therefore, The finite element analysis of strains in the asphalt core is
the authors are currently carrying out laboratory experiments based on the following simplifications and assumptions:

Published by NRC Research Press

Wang et al. 1377

(1) Two-dimensional (2-D) plane strain analyses have been Fig. 14. Measured settlements along the plinth at end of construc-
undertaken using the software SIGMA/W in GeoStudio tion and impounding. (These settlements are used as input in the
2004. finite element back-analysis.)
(2) The settlements along the plinth, as shown in Fig. 14,
have been increased in proportion to the dam height (as
the dam was constructed in 13 layers).
(3) The unit weight of the asphalt core (25 kN/m3) has been
reduced to an equivalent unit weight of 18.4 kN/m3. This
is done to simulate the effect of skin friction (arching)
between the core and transition zone on either side of
the core. The magnitude of the reduction was determined
by using the total stress measured at the base of the core
in section D.
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Having observed the settlements at sections B, D, and F

in the downstream transition zone and the settlement differ-
ences between the asphalt core and transition zone (Fig. 12
and Table 4), one may estimate the settlements of the as-
phalt core at these three sections. The comparisons between Fig. 15. Comparisons between the measured and calculated settle-
the calculated (by the 2-D finite element analyses) and ob- ments in the core at sections B, D, and F.
served settlements in the core at sections B, D, and F are
shown in Fig. 15. In the analysis, the equivalent Young’s
modulus for the core was taken equal to 45 MPa and Pois-
son’s ratio equal to 0.4 based on the laboratory test results
presented by Wang (2008) for the asphalt concrete used in
the core of the Yele Dam.
For personal use only.

The observed and calculated settlements at these three

sections match reasonably well below el. 2625 m.asl., but
not towards the top of the core. As geo-grids were placed
horizontally over the top 30 m of the dam, they confine the
horizontal displacements of the top part of the dam body,
which then undergoes smaller settlements. This is not mod-
eled in the back-analysis and is one reason why the calcu-
lated settlements over the top 30 m are much bigger than
the observed settlements.
The back-calculated shear stresses and shear strains in the
core are shown in Fig. 16. The results from the back-analysis
confirm that the most critical location for the asphalt core is
160 m from the left bank, where the bottom of the cut-off with self-healing (self-sealing) properties should any fissures
wall leaves the rock base and goes over to the more com- or cracks occur due to excessive shear distortions.
pressible overburden. The computed stresses and strains at Eberlaste Dam, Austria, was one of the first asphalt-core
this location are shown in Table 5. The shear stresses are al- embankment dams ever built (1962–1964). It rests on a
most symmetrical around the deepest section of the dam due deep and compressible alluvial foundation, and large differ-
to the rather symmetrical foundation settlement pattern that ential settlements have taken place under the dam, causing
was measured and used in the analysis (Fig. 14). The settle- significant shear distortions in the asphalt core (Höeg
ments are only slightly larger on the right bank than on the 1995). However, even in that case, no leakage due to crack-
left bank, where the depth to bedrock is much smaller. ing in the core has occurred. As the designers of the Eber-
Stress–strain–strength tests were performed on 100 mm laste Dam had anticipated large differential settlements,
diameter samples drilled out of the asphalt core during con- they specified the use of an especially soft grade of bitumen
struction. The results from strain-controlled compression tri- in the asphalt concrete to be able to accommodate large
axial tests, keeping the lateral confining stress constant shear distortions without cracking (Rienössl 1973). This is
during each test, are shown in Fig. 17. The tests were run at one of the advantages of an asphalt-core embankment dam:
7 8C. The stress–strain curves show a very ductile asphalt the geomechanical properties of the asphalt concrete may to
concrete behavior with insignificant strain-softening even a certain extent be tailored to the specific design conditions,
for tests with very low confining stress (Wang 2008). This making it well suited for use in a dam water barrier.
is characteristic of the behavior of hydraulic asphalt concrete Based on the finite element analysis results presented in
with a bitumen content between 6.5% and 7.5% (by total Table 5 and the test results for the Yele asphalt-core speci-
weight), 12%–15% filler content, an aggregate grain-size mens, one may conclude that the computed stress and strain
curve that satisfies the Fuller distribution of particle sizes, states inside the core are safely within a stress–strain range
and maximum aggregate size between 16 and 20 mm. The where there is no danger of cracking due to high shear
behavior is that of a ductile, viscoelastic–plastic material stresses or significant shear dilation that could increase the

Published by NRC Research Press

1378 Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 47, 2010

Fig. 16. Computed maximum shear stresses and strains in the core. (a) Maximum shear stress contours (kPa) in the asphalt core from the
back-analysis. (b) Maximum shear strain contours in the asphalt core from the back-analysis.
Can. Geotech. J. Downloaded from www.nrcresearchpress.com by on 04/21/11
For personal use only.

Table 5. Stress and strain state in the most critical location of the asphalt core at section C.

Max. Major principal Minor principal Ratio of major to

State Vertical Longitudinal Hor.–vert. shear Max. shear stress stress minor principal stress
Stress (MPa) 1.73 1.08 –0.19 N/A 0.38 1.78 1.08 1.65
Strain (%) 1.9 –0.15 1.18 2.04 2.34 N/A N/A N/A
Note: Hor.–vert., horizontal–vertical; N/A, not applicable.

Fig. 17. Triaxial compression test results from 100 mm diameter permeability of the core. The measured field behaviour of
samples drilled out of the Yele Dam core during construction. the core–plinth interface in the Yele Dam is also very reas-
Results presented for different levels of confining stress. suring.

Asphalt core as impervious barrier

Thirteen pizeometers were installed in the downstream
transition zone adjacent to the core at sections B, C, D, and
E, and 15 piezometers were installed upstream and down-
stream near the joint between the asphalt core and concrete
plinth at these same sections. Fifteen piezometers were in-
stalled in the foundation under sections B, C, and D, and 20
piezometers were installed from the observation gallery
down to 2 m below the dam base.
About 200 m downstream of the dam toe, a measuring
weir was installed to measure the seepage rate coming from
the river bed section, left side of the dam, and left abutment.
Most, if not all, of the seepage through the right side of the
dam and through the right abutment is assumed to be col-
lected and measured by the 12 weirs installed on the right

Published by NRC Research Press

Wang et al. 1379

bank in the drainage gallery, construction gallery, access tensive use of deep cut-off walls and curtain grouting. In
galleries, and a drainage ditch (see Fig. 3). late 2008 the leakage amounted to about 280 L/s. Continu-
During the impounding test, very little seepage was re- ous surveillance is taking place to study and control the de-
corded and the pore pressures measured on the downstream velopment of this underseepage.
side of the asphalt core above the plinth were zero or negli-
gible up to a reservoir level of about el. 2630 m.asl. When Acknowledgements
the reservoir level exceeded el. 2633 m.asl., there was a sig- The first and the third authors would like to thank Profes-
nificant increase in seepage through the right bank. When sors Sun Zhentian and Wu Liyan and the late Professors
the reservoir was at el. 2648 m.asl. (i.e., only 2 m below Ding Purong and Yang Quanmin at Xi’an University of
full supply level), the pressure at plinth level on the up- Technology, Xi’an, People’s Republic of China, for their co-
stream side of the core was 118 m while the pressure head operation during several research programs on the Yele as-
in the river bed at the downstream side of the core was still phalt core since 1991. The authors thank the Nanya River
only 7 m under section D. However, the pore-water pressure Basin Hydro-Electric Development Cooperation, the dam
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in the foundation under section F on the right bank was ob- owner, for permission to present the performance observa-
served to be high, increasing with the reservoir level. The tions of the Yele Dam.
significant seepage beneath the cut-off wall at this section
was of concern, and in early 2006 a deep drainage well was References
installed in the foundation through the observation gallery. Adikari, G.S.N., Valstad, T., Kjaernsli, B., and Höeg, K. 1988. Be-
In December 2007, when the reservoir was at el. haviour of Storvatn Dam, Norway. A case of prediction versus
2650 m.asl. (i.e., full supply level), the maximum total seep- performance. In Proceedings of the 5th Australia-New Zealand
age was 358 L/s, which is still smaller than the maximum Conference on Geomechanics, Sydney, Australia, 22–26 August
seepage value of 500 L/s anticipated during design (Wang 1988. Institution of Engineers, Barton, Australia. pp. 86–92.
et al. 2009). From May to September 2008, additional grout- Alicescu, V., Tournier, J.P.S., and Vannobel, P. 2008. Design and
ing was carried out, and new drainage wells were drilled in construction of Nemiscau-1 Dam, the first asphalt core rockfill
the drainage gallery in the right bank. When the reservoir dam in North-America. (Proceedings of the Canadian Dam As-
was at full supply level again in November 2008, the total sociation 2008 Annual Conference. Winnipeg, Man., 27 Septem-
For personal use only.

seepage was reduced to 277 L/s. ber – 2 October 2008.) Canadian Dam Association Bulletin,
Based on the measured pore pressures in the downstream 21(1): 6–12.
dam body, at the plinth level downstream, and on the results Chen, X.G. 2003. Monitoring design for the asphalt core rockfill
from the impounding test, one may conclude that insignifi- dam of Yele hydropower station. Sichuan Water Power, Decem-
cant seepage is coming through the asphalt core and the ber 2003. [In Chinese.]
core–plinth interface. Chen, J.C., Wang, X.B., He, Y.L., and Xiong, K. 2009. Analysis of
the data from earthquake monitoring of Yele Dam. In Proceed-
ings of the 1st International Symposium on Rockfill Dams,
Concluding remarks Chengdu, China, 18–20 October 2009. China Water Power
For the complex foundation and inclement climatic condi- Press, Beijing. pp. 851–858.
Chu, W., Yu, L.S., and Wu, L.Y. 2004. Joint structure model test
tions at the Yele Dam site, which is in a highly seismic re-
of asphalt concrete core of embankment dams. Journal of North-
gion, a rockfill dam with a central core of asphalt concrete
west Hydroelectric Power, 20(1): 23–26. [In Chinese.]
was selected rather than a dam with an earth core or con- Creegan, P.J., and Monismith, C.L. 1996. Asphalt concrete barriers
crete facing. The design of the dam has been presented in for embankment dams. American Society of Civil Engineers
this paper with an emphasis on the design and construction (ASCE) Press, New York.
of the asphalt concrete core. Hao, Y.L., and He, S.B. 2003. Layout of Yele hydropower station.
The properties of asphalt concrete may to a certain extent Sichuan Water Power, December 2003. [In Chinese.]
be tailored to specific design and site requirements, and field Hao, Y.L., and He, S.B. 2008. Design of Yele asphalt concrete core
experience and research show that asphalt concrete is a ‘‘for- rockfill dam. Dam construction in China – state of the art. Chi-
giving’’ material very well suited for use in the impervious nese National Committee on Large Dams, Beijing. pp. 226–233.
core of an embankment dam. Höeg, K. 1993. Asphaltic concrete cores for embankment dams.
An extensive field monitoring program was implemented Stikka Press, Oslo, Norway.
for Yele Dam, and the recorded results have been compared Höeg, K. 1995. Transverse cracking in embankment dams. A litera-
with those of other high rockfill dams with an asphalt core. ture and finite element study. Norwegian Geotechnical Institute,
Special attention has been given to the interaction between Oslo, Norway. NGI Report 532060.
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core embankment dams: recent case studies and research. Inter-
Based on the field measurements, back-analyses, tests on
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the properties of the asphalt concrete and the joint between ICOLD. 1992. Bituminous cores for fill dams. Bulletin 84. Interna-
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tions of any leakage through the core or at the joint between nya River Basin Hydro-electric Development Cooperation
the asphalt core and concrete plinth above the foundation (NRBHDC), Chengdou, China. November 2007 report. [In Chi-
cut-off wall. nese.]
However, as anticipated at this geologically very difficult People’s Republic of China National Development and Reform
site, there is some leakage under the dam in spite of the ex- Commission. 2006. Test code for hydraulic bitumen concrete.

Published by NRC Research Press

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State Power Industry Standard DL/T 5362-2006. China Electric Yu, X.M. 2004. Design of seepage control in dam foundation of
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People’s Republic of China National Energy Administration. 2009. Chinese.]
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embankment dams. State Power Industry Standard DL/T 5411- sis of 5.12 Whenchuan earthquake influence on the external dis-
2009. China Electric Power Press, Beijing. [In Chinese.] placement of Yele dam. In Abstracts of the 1st International
Rienössl, K. 1973. Embankment dams with asphaltic concrete Symposium on Rockfill Dams, Chengdu, China, 18–20 October
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11th Congress of the International Commission on Large Dams, Zheng, P.X., and Wang, X.B. 2009. Analysis evaluation on the
Madrid, Spain, 11–15 June 1973. ICOLD Press, Paris. Vol. 3, changes of fiber in the base of Yele dam of Sichuan in 5.12
pp. 801–816. earthquake. In Abstracts of the 1st International Symposium on
Saxegaard, H. 2010. Asphalt concrete core dams, 2010. Listing in Rockfill Dams, Chengdu, China, 18–20 October 2009.
2010 World Atlas & Industry Guide, The International Journal Zou, L.J., Yu, S.X., and Chen, C.M. 2008. Analysis on the mechni-
on Hydropower & Dams. Aqua-Media International, Surrey, cal behavior and safety of Maopingxi asphalt core dam. Dam
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UK. pp. 56–57. construction in China – state of the art. Chinese National Com-
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Strobl, T., and Schmid, R. 1993. The behaviour of dams with as-
phaltic concrete cores during impounding. Wilmington Business Appendix A
Publishing, Dartford, UK. pp. 29–34. The Yele Dam is located in the northern part of the seis-
Sun, Z.T., and Wang, W.B. 1994. Materials tests of asphalt con- mically active fault zone of the Anning River region, and
crete core and stress–strain analyses for Yele rockfill dam.
the reservoir is about 2 km west of the Anning River down-
Xi’an University of Technology, Xi’an, People’s Republic of
stream active faults. The basic seismic intensity of the dam
China. July 1994 report. [In Chinese.]
The Ministry of Water Resources of the People’s Republic of China.
site is VIII (Chinese scale) and the design intensity is IX
2002. Design code for rolled earth–rock fill dams. Standard with a peak horizontal ground acceleration of 0.45g.
SL274-2001. China Water Power Press, Beijing. [In Chinese.] The Yele Dam seismic analyses were carried out by tak-
ing the peak horizontal rock ground acceleration of 0.45g in
For personal use only.

Wang, W. 2008. Research on the suitability of asphalt concrete as

water barrier in dams and dikes. Ph.D. thesis, University of the river direction and 0.3g in vertical acceleration. The cou-
Oslo, Oslo, Norway. pling coefficient of earthquake horizontal and vertical accel-
Wang, W.B., and Höeg, K. 2009. Method of compaction has signif- erations of 0.5 was used. The earthquake was assumed to
icant effects on stress-strain behaviour of hydraulic asphalt con- last 40 s in a time-domain analysis. The predicted maximum
crete. Journal of Testing and Evaluation, ASTM, 37(3): 264–274. earthquake-induced settlement, horizontal displacement
Wang, W.B., and Sun, Z.T. 1997. Tests on special behaviour of as- (downstream direction), and longitudinal displacement
phalt core for Yele rockfill dam. Report published by Xi’an Uni- (along the dam axis) of the dam crest were 62, 188, and
versity of Technology, Xi’an, P.R. of China. [In Chinese.] 52 mm, respectively. Based on the results of the analyses,
Wang, W.B., and Sun, Z.T. 1999. Supplement tests on asphalt core the dam design as presented in this paper is considered to
for Yele rockfill dam. Report published by Xi’an University of be very earthquake resistant.
Technology, Xi’an, P.R. of China. [In Chinese.]
Wang, X.B., and Zheng, P.X. 2009. Studies on behavior of Yele
asphalt concrete core wall dam. In Proceedings of the 1st Inter- Appendix B
national Symposium on Rockfill Dams, Chengdu, China, 18–20
October 2009. China Water Power Press, Beijing. pp. 631–637.
In the original design, the earthquake resistance was in-
Wang, X.R., Dong, Y.P., and Wan, Q. 2009. Monitor and analysis creased by using reinforced concrete beams in the top part
on the seepage of Yele dam. In Proceedings of the 1st Interna- of the dam. As this was found to be impractical from a con-
tional Symposium on Rockfill Dams, Chengdu, China, 18–20 struction point of view, it was decided to use geo-grid rein-
October 2009. pp. 650–654. [In Chinese.] forcement instead. That was the first time geo-grids were to
Wang, W., Zhang, Y., Höeg, K., and Zhu, Y. 2010. Investigation of be used to increase earthquake resistance in an embankment
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Construction and Building Materials, 24(11): 2157–2163. grids used are: maximum tensile strength ‡ 250 MPa; max-
doi:10.1016/j.conbuildmat.2010.04.043. imum longitudinal tensile load ‡ 150 kN/m; maximum
Wu, Y.G., Cui, H.D., and Teng, Z.C. 2009. Influence of 5.12 transverse tensile load ‡ 80 kN/m; maximum tensile strain ‡
Whenchuan earthquake on the security function of Yele dam. In 8%; tensile load ‡ 60 kN/m at a tensile strain of 3%. The
Abstracts of the 1st International Symposium on Rockfill Dams, tensile strength at joints was specified to be ‡ 50 kN/m.
Chengdu, China, 18–20 October 2009. When using geo-grids in such designs, the material of the
Xu, T.J., Yu, S.X., and Yan, S.H. 2009. Design and verification geo-grids should be made of polypropylene or high-density
analysis on the Maopingxi asphaltic concrete core wall embank- polythene and an oxygen-resistance agent should be added
ment dam of the Three Gorges Project. In Proceedings of the 1st to prevent the geo-grid from ageing.
International Symposium on Rockfill Dams, Chengdu, China,
18–20 October 2009. China Water Power Press, Beijing.
pp. 159–167.

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Wang et al. 1381

Appendix C
Table C1. Dam fill material parameters used in Duncan–Chang model (Duncan and Chang 1970) in finite element analysis.

Material C’ Density
(see Figs. 1 and 2) Rf K n G F D Kur K0 DK (kPa) (g/cm3)
Q21I 0.65 1950 0.76 0.38 –0.023 4.5 3800 40 0 70 2.42
Q22I 0.65 1800 0.72 0.35 –0.023 3.8 3600 40 0 70 2.42
Q31II 0.68 900 0.74 0.38 –0.026 4.3 2200 37 0 80 2.45
Q32–1III 0.70 1100 0.78 0.38 –0.04 5.6 2200 38 0 80 2.24
Q32–2III 0.59 1300 0.76 0.39 –0.035 5.9 2600 39 0 60 2.35
Q32–3IV 0.65 900 0.73 0.38 0.02 5.7 2200 37 0 60 2.20
Asphalt core 0.76 850 0.33 0.38 0.05 15 1200 27 0 200 2.43
Transition zone (dry) 0.67 1200 0.52 0.32 0.06 5 2400 43 5 0 2.2
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Transition zone (wet) 0.67 1080 0.52 0.32 0.06 5 2100 41 5 0 2.2
Upstream rockfill (dry) 0.72 1000 0.5 0.33 0.06 6 1800 48 5 0 2.2
Upstream rockfill (wet) 0.72 900 0.5 0.33 0.06 6 1600 46 5 0 2.2
Downstream rockfill (II) 0.65 1200 0.45 0.31 0.03 3 2000 50 5 0 2.25
Downstream rockfill (I) 0.72 1000 0.5 0.33 0.06 6 1800 48 5 0 2.2
Toe berm 0.65 800 0.45 0.31 0.05 3 1800 48 5 0 2.3
Downstream rockfill (III) 0.75 800 0.4 0.28 0.05 3 1600 36 3 0 2.2
Note: Rf, ratio between the asymptote to the hyperbolic curve and the maximum shear strength; K, modulus number describing the material stiffness; n,
a value describing the rate of change of the material stiffness as a function of the confining stress; G, F, and D, test parameters related to material volume
change; Kur, modulus number used during unloading and reloading; K0, material friction angle in degrees; DK, increase of material friction angle in
degrees; C’, cohesion intercept.

For personal use only.

Duncan, J.M., and Chang, C.-Y. 1970. Nonlinear analysis of stress

and strains in soils. Journal of the Soil Mechanics and Founda-
tions Division, ASCE, 96(5): 1629–1653.

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