Publication Date


Degree Name

Bachelor of Science in Geosciences - Hydrology



First Advisor

Donna Calhoun, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Michael Schubert

Third Advisor

Jim McNamara, Ph.D.


The combination of dams degrading with age and other factors like climate change, technical errors, and human errors lead to dams breaching and failing worldwide. In the United States, over 40,000 dams pose a threat to downstream inhabited areas and constitute a widespread hazard if they were to breach. Therefore, it is critical to accurately predict the resultant floods’ downstream flow behavior to create a more resilient community. By improving research, we can concurrently develop and improve mitigation strategies for downstream communities. This study benchmarks the GeoClaw numerical modeling software with the well-documented 1976 Teton Dam failure. A vital tool in dam failure research is two-dimensional (2D) coupled numerical hydrodynamic modeling for dam-breaks. This study aims to benchmark the GeoClaw software, a 2D hydraulic model with novel adaptive mesh refinement (AMR) capabilities ( for dam failure analysis by a systematic comparison of dam breach inundation response to both historical data and the industry-standard software HEC-RAS (Hydraulic Engineering Center - River Analysis System). The objectives of this study are to:

  1. Determine the suitability of the GeoClaw software based on its capability to resolve inundation extent and flood front arrival times

  2. Compare an instantaneous dam breach with a time-dependent breach formation

  3. Quantify the uncertainty of the HEC-RAS model through a sensitivity analysis

This study concludes the 2D GeoClaw dam break model verified by its stability and accuracy, conservation properties, and calibration with the historical hydrological data and HEC-RAS results at a low computational cost. The overall performance of GeoClaw indicates that it is a validated tool for the simulation of dam-break waves in real-cases with future work. The outcomes of this study will assist dam owners, floodplain managers, and emergency managers alike by providing an additional tool for estimating the impacts of dam failures.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

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