This paper describes a comprehensive sensitivity study that was performed using high performance parallel computers to understand the importance of input parameters to a transient partially saturated finite element seepage analysis for a levee with separate soil layers of sand, silty sand, and clay. Seepage flow in this paper refers to the type of flow of water that occurred through the failed levees in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, as a result of Hurricane Katrina. The input parameters tested were saturated hydraulic conductivity, volumetric compressibility, residual moisture content, saturated moisture content, and two van Genuchten unsaturated flow parameters. The output data compiled to show the sensitivity of the input parameters were the simulation times (days) to achieve 25%, 50%, and 75% of the steady-state values of pore pressure at the toe of the levee beneath its blanket, flow rate through the landside flux section, and the level of saturation in the levee. The use of high performance parallel computers enabled the running of thousands of scenarios using different values for the input variables. A sensitivity investigation of this magnitude has not been previously performed.
The results of this investigation indicated that the more sensitive soil parameters were the saturated hydraulic conductivity and the volumetric compressibility. The unsaturated van Genuchten parameters of the landside blanket had a larger than anticipated impact on the duration of time to achieve steady state. This practical example is an excellent success story for high performance computing in that running a given simulation for a couple of hours on thousands of processors in parallel replaced over a year work using a PC.