Subsea pipelines laid on uneven terrain typically have segments of unsupported spans, referred to as “free spans”. Alternatively, subsea pipelines lying on loose and fine gravel or sand may develop free spans due to sea bottom being scoured out due to current action. This paper is concerned with the numerical simulation of fluid-structure interaction (FSI) to predict the response of free spans exposed to sea bottom currents. When exposed to sea bottom currents these spans may experience vortex-induced vibrations (VIV), which may cause fatigue damage to the pipeline. The VIV response of the pipe span is predicted by coupling a three-dimensional viscous incompressible Navier-Stokes solver with a nonlinear beam finite element solver. Parameters such as turbulence in the flow, proximity of the seabed, pipe sagging due to submerged weight, and pipe-soil interaction, are all accounted for in the FSI simulation. We pay special attention to the effect of seabed / wall proximity on VIV. Design guidelines for free spans are typically based on VIV amplitude and frequency responses for isolated pipes, with little regard to effects of seabed / wall proximity. This may result in overly conservative designs and/or expensive span remediation recommendations, when in reality no span remediation is required. Two examples of field applications are presented.

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