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temporary barrier for excluding water from an area that is normally submerged. Made commonly of wood, steel, or concrete sheet piling (see pilepile,
post of timber, steel, or concrete used to support a structure. Vertical piles, or bearing piles, the most common form, are generally needed for the foundations of bridges, docks, piers, and buildings. Slender tree trunks, roughly trimmed and about 10 in. (25.
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), cofferdams are used in constructing the foundations of dams, bridges, and similar subaqueous structures and for temporary drydocks. If double sheeting is utilized, the space between the sheets is usually filled with clay and gravel. When great strain or pressure is likely to be encountered, as in deep water, the pneumatic caissoncaisson
[Fr.,=big box], in engineering, a chamber, usually of steel but sometimes of wood or reinforced concrete, used in the construction of foundations or piers in or near a body of water. There are several types.
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 is preferred to the cofferdam.


See L. White and E. A. Prentis, Cofferdams (2d ed. 1956).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a narrow airtight compartment separating neighboring units on a ship. It prevents the penetration from one compartment to another of gases given off by petroleum products. Cofferdams, for example, isolate living quarters from tanks of liquid fuel. Freight tanks on tanker ships are separated by cofferdams from bow compartments and machine rooms. Cofferdams are filled with water during the transporting of cargoes with low flash points. Gases accumulating in cofferdams are removed by means of ventilation systems. Many obsolete war-ships had cofferdams, called waterproof compartments, situated along the sides of the ship not protected by armor; they protected against the penetration of water through underwater punctures.



a watertight barrier for protecting hydraulic engineering structures or work sites from flooding during construction or repair. Cofferdams are built of earth (either dry fill or alluvial deposits), rock fill, or wood; more rarely, they are built of concrete and metal.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(civil engineering)
A temporary damlike structure constructed around an excavation to exclude water.
(naval architecture)
A void between two bulkheads designed to separate two adjacent liquid-containing compartments.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


A temporary, wall-like structure to permit dewatering an area and constructing foundations, bridge piers, dams, dry docks, and like structures in the open air. A dewatered area can be completely surrounded by a cofferdam structure or by a combination of natural earth slopes and cofferdam structure. The type of construction is dependent upon the depth, soil conditions, fluctuations in the water level, availability of materials, working conditions desired inside the cofferdam, and whether the structure is located on land or in water (see illustration). An important consideration in the design of cofferdams is the hydraulic analysis of seepage conditions, and erosion of the bottom when in streams or rivers.

Types of cofferdams for use on land: ( a ) cross-braced sheet piles, ( b ) cast-in-place concrete cylinder; and in water: ( c ) cross-braced sheet piles, ( d ) earth damenlarge picture
Types of cofferdams for use on land: (a) cross-braced sheet piles, (b) cast-in-place concrete cylinder; and in water: (c) cross-braced sheet piles, (d) earth dam

Where the cofferdam structure can be built on a layer of impervious soil (which prevents the passage of water), the area within the cofferdam can be completely sealed off. Where the soils are pervious, the flow of water into the cofferdam cannot be completely stopped economically, and the water must be pumped out periodically and sometimes continuously.

A nautical application of the term cofferdam is a watertight structure used for making repairs below the waterline of a vessel. The name also is applied to void tanks which protect the buoyancy of a vessel.

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Engineering. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


A temporary watertight enclosure around an area of water or water-bearing soil, in which construction is to take place, bearing on a stable stratum at or above the foundation level of new construction. The water is pumped from within to permit free access to the area.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. a watertight structure, usually of sheet piling, that encloses an area under water, pumped dry to enable construction work to be carried out. Below a certain depth a caisson is required
2. (on a ship) a compartment separating two bulkheads or floors, as for insulation or to serve as a barrier against the escape of gas or oil
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
The logistics work involved in transporting all of this concrete across the site was, alongside the issues presented by the depth and scale of the cofferdam, one of the key challenges on the project.
Boaters should be aware of the cofferdam, which extends from north side river bank about 70 feet out and is about 90 feet wide.
The process continued until the pullhead emerged out of the cofferdam and was pulled on to the beach.
Peter Stephenson, chairman of Able UK, said: "Construction workers are now on site preparing the piles and we expect to start constructing the cofferdam in early February at the same time as preparing the deep water quays.
Clean upland fill was used to construct cofferdams upstream and downstream of the right of way.
Holding it all up WATERTIGHT structures called cofferdams are being built to allow foundations to be laid for the three pylons that will support the main bridge.
After a bypass channel was dug and shored, four, 8 by 20 foot trench boxes with 84-inch spreaders were set upstream in the river one at a time, and then filled with dirt to create a solid cofferdam. Downstream of the work area, three, 8 by 20 foot dirt-filled trench boxes, also seven-feet wide, dammed off any backflow of the river.
It also requests permission to construct and refurbish quays, build a cofferdam and dock gates.
About 10 feet upstream of the plug, a permanent 5-foot cofferdam was built to provide a dry area for the work crews during maintenance.
Construction of a stone cofferdam began upstream of the spillway to access the whirlpool and eventually isolate the spillway from the reservoir to facilitate future remedial work.