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Dam It

I am sure that I am not the only one that thought of this overwhelmingly punny title.  I am also sure that I am not the only ME student that doesn’t give CE projects a second thought usually.  Although I love making fun of my CE friends, it is always meant to be tongue in cheek, and dams are a wonderful example of a mechanical-civil spillway.

Dams have been used for thousands of years to control water levels for irrigation purposes, civil water supplies, and most recently, for hydroelectric power.  Many of the first dams consisted of simple straightedge gravity structures, with the arch dam coming along around 1 B.C. courtesy of the Romans.  As math, science, and engineering progressed, dam design followed suit.  By now, as engineering students we realize the importance of shape and stress concentration, and so arch-gravity dams such as the famous Hoover Dam make perfect sense to us.

There are two common arch dam design parameters in use today, the uniform angle or uniform radius designs.  Uniform angle dams maintain the same angle from the “toe” to the top of the damn via a hypotenuse and the radius of the arch will vary as such.  Uniform radius dams maintain the same curvature on their top.  In a gravity dam, the sheer weight of the structure itself (yes, weight) is the force that balances out the hydroforces.  Hey, what do you think an arch-gravity dam does!?  BAM (DAM?), the combo!

Fluid statics problems are essential to the design of these structures.  Determining the static force created by the water is only one major step when it comes to the shape of the structure, and the material used to construct it.  To take it a step further, fluid dynamics problems can be constructed to determine something more in the ME realm, turbine design.  (Hey, I love jet turbines!  Maybe I love water turbines too!)  The Three Gorges Dam in China is rated at 22,500 MW!  That is awesome.

Here is an amazing website for more insight into everything that goes into dam design for anyone that wants to appreciate how great these things can be.

Thanks for reading,



About timpalamcmuffin

I'm a mechanical engineering student that loves aviation and hockey.

5 responses to “Dam It

  1. tuf44887

    This post is very informative and thought out. The incorporation of the picture of the Three Gorges Dam effectively supports your explanation about the unique structure of dams.
    P.S. Creative title

  2. This post was very well done, again. I also wrote about the three gorges dam. It is the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. Accordingly I think the future is going to be in perfecting these design to generate more power. Thanks for posting.

  3. adamacom

    Great post buddy. That was very informative. I had no clue that dams had been around for centuries. The link you provided is great also as it has the dam designs and histories.

  4. I have nothing against dams. Infact at least 80% of my home country power comes from dams. They are one of the most efficient ways to produce power with efficiencies of up to 80% or more. However I do think money ought to be invested in other forms of power generation that do not sabotage the other several practical uses of waterbodies or displace residents within a significantly huge mile radius of the dam with no where else to go. It is nothing short of a living hell to have to leave home sweet home into some shabbily built government apartments. So no you can’t dam it all to hell. I guess i do have something against dams afterall

  5. Nice article. I am most impressed by the complexity of the dams built hundreds of years ago. On thing that concerns me, though, is that there is a lot of discussion within the environmental sciences community about the destructive properties of dams to nature. Slowing water flow or causing unsteady flow causes water quality issues and disrupts animal migration and habitats.

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