Lidar makes its points at Europe’s dams

Terrestrial lidar scanners and sophisticated new mathematical models help engineers model dams to understand safety and risks

Europe has a lot of dams. While most were built after World War II, some of the continent’s 7,000 large dams can be traced back to the Roman Empire. They serve many purposes, protecting cities and farmland from flooding, and generating 13% percent of Europe’s electricity from hydropower.

Dams are also some of our biggest and potentially most dangerous civil engineering projects. It’s vital for engineers to generate highly accurate models of these structures for safety testing. What are the risks? When will dams need to be repaired or replaced?

In early days this meant physical scale models made of concrete, and many dams still exist that were originally designed according to these practical models. Most governments are now upgrading their old scale models with new mathematical models, often derived from terrestrial lidar scanners with the help of computers. These mathematical models describe the dams and their surrounding rock faces much more accurately and are also useful in determining how the dam and surrounding rock would interact during a seismic event, something for which the scale models could not always account.