For well over a decade it has been widely recognised that existing models and tools for subsea pipeline stability design fail to account for the fact that seabed soils tend to become mobile well before the onset of pipeline instability. Despite ample evidence obtained from both laboratory and field observations that sediment mobility has a key role to play in understanding pipeline/soil interaction, no models have been presented previously which account for the tripartite interaction between the fluid and the pipe, the fluid and the soil, and the pipe and the soil.

There are numerous well developed and widely used theories available to model pipe-fluid and pipe-soil interactions. A challenge lies in the way to develop a satisfactory fluid-soil interaction algorithm that has the potential for broad implementation under both ambient and extreme sea conditions due to the complexity of flow in the vicinity of a seabed pipeline or cable. A widely used relationship by Shields [1] links the bedload and suspended sediment transport to the seabed shear stresses. This paper presents details of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) research which has been undertaken to investigate the variation of seabed shear stresses around subsea pipelines as a parametric function of pipeline spanning/embedment, trench configuration and wave/current properties using the commercial RANS-based software ANSYS Fluent. The modelling work has been undertaken for a wide range of seabed geometries, including cases in 3D to evaluate the effects of finite span length, span depth and flow attack angle on shear stresses.

These seabed shear stresses have been analysed and used as the basis for predicting sediment transport within the Pipe-Soil-Fluid (PSF) Interaction Model [2] in determining the suspended sediment concentration and the advection velocity in the vicinity of pipelines. The model has significant potential to be of use to operators who struggle with conventional stabilisation techniques for the pipelines, such as those which cross Australia’s North West Shelf, where shallow water depths, highly variable calcareous soils and extreme metocean conditions driven by frequent tropical cyclones result in the requirement for expensive and logistically challenging secondary stabilisation measures.

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