When installing subsea pipelines on an uneven seabed, the free spans can be vulnerable to fatigue damage caused by vortex induced vibrations (VIV). Indeed, even moderate currents can induce vortex shedding, alternately at the top and the bottom of the pipeline, at a rate determined by the flow velocity. Each time a vortex sheds, a force is generated in both the in-line and cross-flow direction, causing an oscillatory multi-mode vibration. This vortex induced vibration can give rise to fatigue damage of submarine pipeline spans, especially in the vicinity of the girth welds. Traditional design for VIV is recommended in DNV-RP-F105, which limits the allowable free span length and implies whether (and when) seabed interventions are required.

The traditional DNV-RP-F105 design method is based on a semi-empirical approach, where the allowable span length depends on the pipe properties (diameter, wall thickness, coating, steel SN_curves, …), the sea state (current velocity, wave induced velocity and period) and the soil conditions (submerged unit weight, undrained shear strength, bearing capacity,…). All these input parameters, however, exhibit a certain extent of scatter and uncertainty.

This paper presents a risk based evaluation of free spans, by applying the principles of structural reliability theory to the problem of long free spanning pipelines subjected to VIV. First, a fully deterministic on-bottom roughness analysis is performed to introduce numerical tools for free span analysis. Then, a sensitivity analysis on soil parameters is presented to show significant influence of soil properties on free span predictions.

To study the implications of uncertainty in soil properties, a First Order Reliability Method (FORM) analysis is presented at the end of this paper, where the soil properties are introduced as stochastic variables.

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