Internal erosion during soil pipeflow: State of the science for experimental and numerical analysis

G. V. Wilson, J. L. Nieber, R. C. Sidle, G. A. Fox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Many field observations have led to speculation on the role of piping in embankment failures, landslides, and gully erosion. However, there has not been a consensus on the subsurface flow and erosion processes involved, and inconsistent use of terms have exacerbated the problem. One such piping process that has been the focus in numerous field observations, but with very limited mechanistic experimental work, is flow through a discrete macropore or soil pipe. Questions exist as to the conditions under which preferential flow through soil pipes results in internal erosion, stabilizes hillslopes by acting as drains, destabilizes hillslopes via pore-pressure buildups, and results in gully formation or reformation of filled-in ephemeral gullies. The objectives of this article are to review discrepancies in terminology in order to represent the piping processes better, to highlight past experimental work on the specific processes of soil pipeflow and internal erosion, and to assess the state-of-the-art modeling of pipeflow and internal erosion. The studies reviewed include those that examined the process of slope stability as affected by the clogging of soil pipes, the process of gullies forming due to mass failures caused by flow into discontinuous soil pipes, and the process of gully initiation by tunnel collapse due to pipes enlarging by internal erosion. In some of these studies, the soil pipes were simulated with perforated tubes placed in the soil, while in others the soil pipes were formed from the soil itself. Analytical solutions of the excess shear stress equation have been applied to experimental data of internal erosion of soil pipes to calculate critical shear stress and erodibility properties of soils. The most common numerical models for pipeflow have been based on Richards' equation, with the soil pipe treated as a highly conductive porous medium instead of a void. Incorporating internal erosion into such models has proven complicated due to enlargement of the pipe with time, turbulent flow, and episodic clogging of soil pipes. These studies and modeling approaches are described, and gaps in our understanding of pipeflow and internal erosion processes and our ability to model these processes are identified, along with recommendations for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)465-478
Number of pages14
JournalTransactions of the ASABE
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 10 2013


  • Ephemeral gully erosion
  • Erodibility
  • Internal erosion
  • Landslides
  • Pipeflow
  • Soil pipes

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Internal erosion during soil pipeflow: State of the science for experimental and numerical analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this