Mobile mudmats are increasingly adopted as foundation solution for subsea structures in offshore field developments, to allow their horizontal movement under the cyclically imposed expansion/contraction operating loads from the connected lines. The foundation compliance grants the dissipation of the applied loads while the structure slides on the seabed and the required base dimensions are reduced. Foldable solutions can even be installed integrated with the related lines, passing through the pipelay vessel tower.
The described experience is based upon design and installation of mobile mudmats for subsea structures in the last twenty years of activity in several deepwater areas all over the world. The design has been improved with time and its robustness has been demonstrated using alternative analytical approaches and Finite Element Model of the system with proper definition of soil-foundation behavior through equivalent springs. The geotechnical engineering effort focused to ensure the foundation adequate bearing capacity and its ability to slide under repeated thermal/pressure expansion loads during design lifetime, without developing excessive settlements and pitch/roll unacceptable rotations that could compromise the system performance.
The purpose of the present work is to raise awareness of the need for reference international criteria for the design of mobile foundations, which represent an important solution for a subsea field development. Available Codes and Standards do not cover the relevant aspects of the mobile foundation engineering: they are based upon fixed foundation concept, which is expected to be stable under all the applied load combinations without developing any significant displacement. The mobile foundation engineering challenge is to accept that a failure mechanism develops in sliding condition while proper design criteria of system stability and reliability are fulfilled.
Valuable and impressive research works have been carried out and published on the subject in the recent years. However, for practical application, specific criteria are required to provide a unique basic reference for design (minimum safety requirements/methodology/guidelines), which might be supported or not by more detailed and complex approaches, as occurs for traditional "fixed" foundations. Subsea structures could be regarded in the future as special components of the pipeline with a proper methodology to investigate their interaction with the seabed for the subsequent structural analyses.