Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Determining Strength of Levee
Name: Morgan
Status: student
Grade: 6-8
Location: NC 
Country: N/A
Date: 10/25/2005

If and when they fix the levee in Louisiana, how will they measure if it is repaired? What devise can be used to measure it? How will you know it is repaired?

Hi Morgan,

I think that your question really has two parts to it. First, the levee was intended to hold back the water from flooding the city. The levee can be considered repaired when it is restored and it is holding back the water under normal conditions. Engineers can calculate the pressures on the levee due to the water and build accordingly.

The second part, and what I think you are really asking, is "How do we know that the new levee with withstand another Hurricane?" The answer is that we will never know until it happens again. Engineers can try and estimate what pressures and forces the levee might encounter, but mother nature is powerful and unexpected.

Bob Hartwell

The design relies on sampling the underground soils, computer models to determine the wave heights and forces. Then computations to determine the width of the base, the slopes of the sides and the top width are made. The properties of the fill used to form the levee are known. The construction is monitored and samples taken. As with anything that is made, if all the specifications and drawings are followed, there is the confidence that it will work. When it comes to soils, there can be localized failures, settling or sloughing off. So, there is monitoring to identify spots needing repair. For existing levees when there are patches etc. the assumptions and computations become complicated. What part is old and in what shape.

To measure performance, the levees themselves may contain equipment which can record the moisture, or condition of the soils. An example, consider snow , you can tell "good packing" for snow balls, that is the percent of moisture present. Dry fluffy snow does not make "good packing". Equipment can measure the water content in the levee. Think of the houses in California that slide down the hills, during the heavy rains. The failure is in the water filling the pores between the soil particles, so levees can be monitored, but during the hurricane, the conditions are life threatening to go out and read gauges, and reading devices removed from the site, rely on electricity, which can go out.

So, often, you have to wait till the storm passes to check them.

James Przewoznik

Click here to return to the Engineering Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory