The lure of hands-on involvement in research and lab work attracted Huntington District Geologist Erica Medley to apply for ERDC University, and both she and her district leaders were delighted when Medley joined the inaugural class to begin project work in August.
Medley is working with the Geotechnical Engineering and Geosciences Branch of ERDC- Vicksburg’s Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory on experiments using glacial outwash deposits which adversely affect regional Huntington District dams and levees with similar foundation materials.
The daughter of math and science teachers, she hails from LA Porte, Indiana, and is currently working on her master’s of engineering degree from Missouri Science and Technology. Medley earned her bachelor’s in geology from Indiana State University, followed by her first master’s in that field from Portland State University.
The founding of ERDC University came at an opportune time for Medley’s educational and research quests.
“Huntington District was having initial discussions with GSL about doing some internal erosion research using materials from one of our projects. Bryant Robbins, an ERDC researcher at the Risk Management Center in Denver, Colorado, and one of the leads in internal erosion projects, suggested to me that it could be a mutually beneficial experience if I were to collaborate with ERDC during this program and to see this research project from the start to the finish,” Medley said.
Gaining a better understanding of how these internal erosion tests are performed and working directly with ERDC team members proved to be a powerful combination. ERDC just happened to have the advanced equipment and expertise she needed.
“Huntington District has been extremely supportive of this collaboration, and they are excited to continue to build a relationship together and engage in future research,” Medley said.
Overseeing the Vicksburg GSL project, Geotechnical Engineer Axel Montalvo said, “ERDC University is a great opportunity to advance the mission of ERDC and the USACE districts. Being able to collaborate with Erica Medley has allowed me to understand better the role of the districts in assessing and reducing risks of our dams and levees. At the same time, she was able to learn the purpose of our research and conducted experiments with us in our facilities.
Corps’ erosion challenges
Medley explained that many historical dam and levee breaches have been attributed to an internal erosion failure mechanism.
“Several regional Huntington District projects located in Northeast Ohio are founded on glacial outwash materials which exists in certain valleys at depths greater than 300 feet. The susceptibility of these sand and gravel glacial outwash materials to backwards erosion piping has been debated in past risk assessments.
“Magnolia Levee is located approximately eight miles beyond the extent of the Illinoisan glacial margin. The pre-existing valley was filled with 100 feet of sand and gravelly sand fluvial transported glacial outwash deposits. We currently utilize empirical data from past internal erosion laboratory tests which have been performed on manufactured materials with specified gradations,” Medley said.
Beneficial Research Project
To create realistic conditions for their ERDC research project, Medley arranged for bulk samples collected in the same glacial outwash valley to be delivered to the Vicksburg lab.
“These materials are being tested for susceptibility to backwards erosion piping in GSL’s cylindrical flume. The results will teach us new things about these glacial outwash deposits which will apply to many regional Huntington District dams and levees with similar foundation materials. This together with more site visits and mapping of stratigraphy at regional sand and gravel quarries with laterally continuous open excavations will result in a greater understanding of these depositional environments and refinement of our geologic model,” Medley said.
Medley shared that working with ERDC on this research has been a great experience.
“Performing all of the flume tests and spending time preparing the tests and being involved in a lot of the research that occurs prior to any testing has given me a much greater understanding of the data we collected (and also limitations of the data).
“I have also gained an awareness of the multitude of research areas going on at ERDC and how different areas can apply to our civil works mission. We plan to continue some of this research together for this project and I hope to engage with ERDC to do more research together on future projects,” Medley said.
Advantages of ERDC U
Antisa Webb, spell out chief of technology advancement and ERDC U facilitator, said “Participants serve as a member of the interdisciplinary research and development team reporting to lead project managers and/or research and development direct program managers. The incumbent supports, and possibly leads, any number of activities to develop R&D technologies related to solutions in support of multiple Corps business line areas.
“This is an exciting opportunity for the incumbent to help shape the future of the Corps’ technical knowledge-base. It is also an opportunity to become a leader in scientific and engineering technical areas to be applied in the incumbents’ home organization while building a collaborative partnership with ERDC, and is considered an investment in the future of the Corps,” Webb said.
The ERDC University graduation Dec. 2 featured the eight members of the initial class presenting their projects to ERDC leaders.