WSDOT Developing and Calibrating Fragmental Rockfall Models

Managing rock slopes adjacent to highway infrastructure requires considering possible slope instability and designing mitigation efforts to prevent rockfall damage to the roadway and travelers. When engineers design a slope scaling program, rockfall catchment area, or rockfall barrier, they generally use a rockfall simulation model to predict the potential path and distribution of falling rocks. However, current 2D models tend to significantly overestimate the length of falling blocks’ travel paths, which leads to more expensive and extensive protection than required for slope maintenance. Recent studies have demonstrated that rockfall models built in game engine environments can replicate the observed pathways and fragmentation sizes of rockfall events. The ultimate goal of this pooled fund study, led by WSDOT, is to develop “game-engine”-based  3D rockfall simulation software, based on data from LiDAR or photogrammetry models, that has the potential to more realistically model rockfall fragmentation and large block interaction.

Transportation Pooled Fund details

Principal Investigators:
Joseph Wartman, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UW
Jean Hutchinson, Geological Science and Engineering, Queen’s University
Michael Olsen, Civil and Construction Engineering, Oregon State University

Sponsors: WSDOT
with pooled funds from Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, New York, Tennessee, and Texas
WSDOT Technical Monitor: Marc Fish
WSDOT Project Manager: Jon Peterson
Scheduled completion; December 2023