Mosul Dam - visualizations of failure – Vignette

Mosul Dam – visualizations of failure

The Mosul dam is a ticking time bomb.


Many journalists have reported in recent years on its potentially catastrophic failure. Dexter Filkins wrote a damning article in the New Yorker about how the Mosul dam is failing.


Saddam Hussein constructed the dam in the early 1980s. The major problem lies in its foundation —  it was built on soft rock which dissolves on contact with water, threatening the integrity of the entire structure. Engineers have mitigated as much risk as possible by constantly filling new holes underneath the dam with cement in a process called “grouting.” It requires a lot of guess work and has to be constantly replenished.


The humanitarian consequences for the dam failure are enormous. Most of Mosul could be under as much as 70 feet of water within mere hours. Within three days, the water could potentially reach Baghdad, some 200 miles away. “Anyone who says a catastrophic outburst would be ‘Biblical’ – they are correct,” warned Lise Grande, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq.


Vignette Interactive decided to look into infographics and data visualizations of the dam that are being used to explain the looming crisis.


A team of researchers from NASA produced this animated graphic in collaboration with the Italian Space Agency to show displacement of the soil around and underneath the dam. The music is arguably a little overdone. But it’s effective.

When ISIS took over the dam in 2014, there was a subsidence in the soil — marked by blue. Engineers were no longer able to tend to the dam, as the area was controlled by hardline fighters. The time period that maintenance stopped is questionable — While The New Yorker interviewed people who said the grouting stopped for less than three weeks, others have said it was as much as 18 months.


Radio Free Europe created a very easy-to-use interactive about the Mosul dam and what would happen to Mosul and Baghdad in the event of dam failure.

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Last year the European Union issued a report on the dam that included great visualizations on different scenarios of the dam failure.

This one gives different situations for a 7 percent break versus a 26 percent break in the dam:

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None of these situations sound promising. Preventative measures to ensure the dam does not break are critical. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent have been going door-to-door in at-risk areas around the dam and encouraging them to use specific mobile apps that provide people life-saving information in the event of disaster. Iraqi authorities have signed a contract with an Italian company called the Trevi Group, which is set to oversee essential repairs of the dam. Time is of the utmost importance. Spring time is the most dangerous time for the dam, as the snow melts and the water levels rise.

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Written by Tara Todras-Whitehill on 9th Jan 2017 in Interactive,Photography,Video