Long-term hydraulic behaviour and soil ripening processes in a dike constructed from dredged material

Julia Gebert, Alexander Groengroeft

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Purpose: Climate change necessitates heightening and strengthening of dikes, requiring large volumes of suitable soil. This study investigated soil ripening and long-term development of hydraulic behaviour of a dike constructed from slightly contaminated, partially dewatered dredged material from the Port of Hamburg under realistic conditions of construction and operation. 

Materials and methods: Two test fields of 126 m2 each were constructed in 2004 for long-term analysis of hydraulic behaviour in combination with the possible mobilisation of contaminants. In test field 1 (MS), the 1-m-thick cover above the sand core consisted of traditionally used alluvial marsh sediment (reference), while in test field 2, the lower 0.7 m of the cover was substituted with dredged material (DM + MS). An HDPE tray below each field served the collection of bottom fluxes and hence the quantification of discharges and analysis of their chemical composition. In 2012, an excavation was carried out to inspect the development of the soil structure. 

Results and discussion: The discharge pattern revealed three distinct phases related to the post-construction structure development and therefore physical ripening of the soils. Within a single year, bottom fluxes typically started in mid-winter and ended in late spring. The dike cover containing DM had a high water retention capacity; however, the vertically continuous primary shrinkage cracks led to higher total bottom fluxes compared to the dike constructed from MS only. System hydraulic conductivities increased by up to six orders of magnitude compared to the as-built condition before soil ripening and structuring. The dredged material maintained a reduced geochemical status for about two years after construction. After first shrinkage and intrusion of oxygen, the material changed to an oxidised state, earmarking the onset of the chemical ripening process. Oxidising conditions were sustained in the long term, seen from the absence of previously elevated ammonium concentrations in the dike seepage. 

Conclusions: System hydraulics of the test field with dredged material were mainly determined by the covering layer of marsh sediment. After construction, the dredged material underwent physical, chemical and biological soil ripening processes, coupled to a respective change in discharge patterns, which, however, did not impair dike stability. It is recommended that soil ripening processes are induced and completed as part of the material’s pre-treatment, precluding the formation of irreversible shrinkage cracks and changeover of redox conditions after construction. The findings contribute to assessing the feasibility of the beneficial use of dredged material.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1793-1805
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Soils and Sediments
Volume20 (2020)
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Beneficial use
  • Dikes and embankments
  • Sediment
  • Soil ripening
  • Soil structure

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