Earthquakes: Bracing against the shaking

October 8, 2010

An ASU geotechnical engineer says the U.S. should learn from what New Zealanders did to withstand a recent powerful quake – and how they could have prepared even better

There are critical lessons for the United States on the value of rigorous construction and engineering standards in the aftermath of a recent earthquake that rocked one of New Zealand’s major urban areas, says Arizona State University geotechnical engineering expert Edward Kavazanjian.

The Sept. 4 Darfield earthquake in the area of Christchurch, one of the country’s largest cities, was a 7.1-magnitude quake, equal in magnitude to the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year that caused more than 200,000 fatalities.

Though the Darfield quake’s impact was widespread, the result was far less devastating than in Haiti, due in large part to New Zealand’s stringent construction codes and sustainable engineering practices, says Kavazanjian, a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

He was one of several engineers and geologists from the United States who traveled to New Zealand a week after the event as part of the Geotechnical Extreme Event Reconnaissance team supported by the National Science Foundation.

There were no deaths as a result of the quake, but there was serious damage to many older commercial buildings and newer residences and significant disruption to power, water, sewer, transportation and communications systems.

Despite high levels of ground movement, however, structural damage to most modern buildings and many other structures was minimal.

That’s because New Zealand has put in place some of the most advanced building and engineering regulations designed to prepare structures to withstand seismic activity, Kavazanjian says.

After a study in 1997 that identified the risks to the region’s critical infrastructure posed by potential seismic activities, authorities formed a “lifeline engineering” group to prepare for and respond to a major earthquake. Local public works departments, municipal agencies and utilities developed emergency response plans and invested in upgrading facilities.

One result, Kavazanjian reports, was that essential public services – water, power, transportation – were restored in more than two-thirds of the Darfield quake area within a day. Services were almost completely restored within five days.

This was despite major disruptions in water and sewer lines in areas subjected to substantial earthquake-induced soil liquefaction – whereby soil loses strength and stability due to shaking from earthquakes.

Still, there’s a cautionary lesson for the United States from the Darfield quake about being fully prepared to withstand the impact of earthquake-induced liquefaction, Kavazanjian explains.

Liquefaction caused by the Darfield quake resulted in more than 1,000  homes being immediately declared unsafe for occupancy, and it's possible that count could increase ten-fold as further damage is assessed. Several hundred or more may need to be demolished.

“The social, environmental and capital cost of damage and destruction due to liquefaction in residential areas will likely turn out to be the major impact of this earthquake,” Kavazanjian says.

Risks posed by liquefaction to residential housing were not addressed in building codes in the United States until 2003, so homes in areas of potentially high seismic activity constructed prior to that year are at risk of similar damage.

Kavazanjian points out that many areas of the United States are at risk of liquefaction, and there are hundreds of thousands of pre-2003 homes in those areas, particularly coastal stretches of California, Oregon, and Washington, as well as in Utah, the Mississippi River basin and South Carolina.

Technologies available to prevent and aid recovery from such for liquefaction-induced damage beneath buildings and other structures, including underground utilities, remain costly.

“Development of technologies that could cost-effectively address this problem is a focus of research around the world, including at ASU,” Kavazanjian says.

One process being explored is bio-cementation, using microbially-induced carbonate precipitation to reduce the impact of liquefaction. It’s a natural process that turns potentially liquefiable sand into more resistant cemented sands and sandstones on a geologic time scale.

The challenge for researchers is to accelerate this natural process so it takes place over a time scale of relevance to seismic hazard mitigation, Kavazanjian says.

Practical application of such technology, however, is not expected in the short-term, he says.

The National Science Foundation is supporting a research project to address this challenge led by Kavazanjian and Bruce Rittmann, also a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

Kavazanjian was among experts who provided peer review several years ago for a design to ensure resiliency against seismic activity for the regional waste-disposal landfill in the area hit by the Darfield quake. That landfill survived the earthquake unscathed and was working overtime to accept waste from cleanup activities after the quake. Download Full Image

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU poet Alberto Ríos named UA Alumnus of the Year

October 8, 2010

Alberto Alvaro Ríos, a Regents’ Professor who holds the Katharine C. Turner Chair in English at ASU, is being honored with an Alumnus of the Year Award from the University of Arizona. He will be recognized at a ceremony during UA’s Homecoming 2010 celebration Oct. 22 in Tucson. The UA Alumnus of the Year awards celebrate “the highest achievements and contributions of alumni to their colleges.”

Charles “Chuck” Tatum, a professor of Spanish and Portuguese who was dean of the Humanities College at UA in the 1970s, praised Ríos’ work and character, saying “Alberto ‘Tito’ Ríos is one of the finest poets of his generation. In addition, he is a kind and generous person who gives willingly and often to his profession, to his colleagues and to his community. I am proud to know him.”
“I don’t know how this happened,” Ríos said. “I don’t know what leap of the imagination it would have taken to grasp that all these years later one might – because of having put eye to page and pen to paper in all those courses – one might have done some good. I think it’s safe to say that education works. It is our common miracle.”
Ríos received a bachelor’s degree in literature/writing in 1974, another in psychology in 1975, and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing in 1979, all from the University of Arizona. During his career he has garnered acclaim as a poet and public speaker. He has published 10 books and chapbooks of poetry, most recently “The Dangerous Shirt” (2009); “The Theater of Night” (2006), winner of the 2007 PEN/Beyond Margins Award; and “The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body” (2002), which was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Of his work, the judges for the National Book Award wrote: “Alberto Ríos is a poet of reverie and magical perception, and of the threshold between this world and the world just beyond.”
Maureen Daly Goggin, chair and professor in the Department of English in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences said, “Alberto Ríos is a leading poet and international public speaker in American literature whose voice has brought distinction to our corner of the Southwest. He is generous to our community and students.”
Considered an honorary Arizona poet laureate (the state does not have an official one), Ríos has written commissioned poetry for a visit by Mexican President Vicente Fox in 2003, and for Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano’s second-term inauguration in 2007. “Capirotada,” Ríos’ memoir about growing up on the Arizona-Mexico border, was selected as Arizona’s ONEBOOK for 2009.
“Alberto Ríos is one of the leading American poets of our time,” said Gail Browne, executive director of the UA Poetry Center.
“During the 1970s, a student in the creative writing program, he was a frequent user of our poetry library. He continues to participate in important, celebratory moments such as the dedication of the Helen S. Schaefer Building. As part of our 50th Anniversary celebrations in September he captivated us with a reading of his work. He is one of the best readers of his own work I have ever heard. He’s also a warm, gracious and generous human being.”
Ríos’ poems have been often adapted and set to dance and music. A performance Oct. 8 by the ASU Herberger Institute School of Music will feature a cantata by ASU professor James DeMars entitled “Tito’s Say,” with lyrics from Ríos’ poetry. Ríos and DeMars also collaborated on a choral piece for the Arizona Commission on the Arts celebration of Arizona’s statehood centennial in 2012. Download Full Image

More information about arts celebrations of the centennial is online at" target="_blank">" target="_blank">Kristen LaRue
Department of English

Britt Lewis

Communications Specialist, ASU Library