2013 – Effects of earthquake design ground motions on the seismic response of upstream-raised tailings dams

Hendra Jitno

Upstream construction methodology has been used to raise tailings dams in Western Australia (WA) for more than three decades, and the tailings storage facilities (TSFs) built in this manner have performed satisfactorily so far. The maximum design earthquake (MDE) for most of the existing, upstream-raised TSFs in WA was that corresponding to a 1-in-1,000 year annual exceedance probability (1:1,000 AEP). However, the recommended MDE loading for the High/Extreme Failure Consequence Category in the 2012 ANCOLD Guidelines on Tailings Dams is that of a 1:10,000 AEP. This more stringent seismic design criterion may restrict the use of upstream TSF construction in some areas of WA and Australia in general.
To evaluate the viability of upstream construction for a new or existing TSF, the effects of the earthquake design ground motion (EDGM) on the liquefaction and deformation response of the structure must be understood. The results of such analyses are an essential component in determining whether upstream raising will be feasible, or whether more robust but much more costly centreline or downstream construction methods are required.
A parametric study was completed to investigate the liquefaction and deformation behaviour of a typical, upstream-raised tailings dam under different earthquake design ground motions with different response spectra. The study utilized two-dimensional finite difference code FLAC2D effective stress dynamic analysis, in which the UBCSAND constitutive soil model was incorporated. Twenty-eight earthquake ground motions (matched and unmatched to the target response spectrum) were used in the study and the liquefaction response of the tailings dam model under those ground motions was analysed.
The results of the study demonstrate the importance of appropriate ground motion and response spectrum selection in assessing the seismic performance of an upstream-raised TSF. Liquefaction response was shown to vary with different response spectra, even though the corresponding EDGMs had similar peak ground acceleration (PGA) values. The importance of earthquake frequency content and duration, which in turn are affected by earthquake magnitude, distance and ground motion response, is emphasized. Scaling and matching the earthquake input motion to the uniform hazard response spectrum (UHRS) may result in overly-conservative design. Thus, selection of the most representative EDGM is essential to evaluating expected seismic performance for an upstream-raised TSF, and scaling or matching the earthquake input motions must be done cautiously.

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