Levees are normally the last barrier for defending flood water and storm surges in low-lying coastal cities. Levees in a large delta plain were usually constructed in different time and criteria and have been changing with age as well. Fast and quantitative assessment of levee stability is critical but faces many challenges. This study designs a scoring approach to quickly assess levee stability and overtopping threats with geometric parameters from airborne Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR). An automated procedure is developed to extract levees geometric parameters from 0.5 m grid LiDAR elevation, such as crown height, width and landside slope. The surveyed levee is seated in the Hengmen waterway in the Pearl River Delta, Southern China. Results show that the stability index using the assessment scores is higher than and superior to the common qualified rates adopted in previous studies. The qualified rate is defined as the count percentage that each parameter meets the designed criteria, while the assessment score proposed in this study assigns different credits to those below/above the designed criteria. The continuous crown heights provide detailed information on levee overtopping threats. The crown heights of levee A and B are above the designed elevation and the flood stage (4.5 m) in a 200-year return period. The crown heights of levee C, D and E are generally lower than 4.5 m and vary in a large range on different sections. The middle section of levee E for the harbor and dock area has front elevation slightly below the flood stage (3.54 m) in a 20-year return period. Moreover, the high precision LiDAR altimetry data reveal various morphological modifications in all levees, such as natural subsidence and artificial modifications, which greatly reduce levees safety and are severe threats to the community. The procedures and assessment approach developed in this study can be easily applied for levees fast assessment in the entire Pearl River Delta and somewhere else, thus offer a suitable mitigation suggestion ahead of levee failure or overtopping.
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