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Did Human Activities Trigger the Great Sichuan Earthquake of 2008? [View All]

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NNadir Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-26-10 09:20 PM
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Did Human Activities Trigger the Great Sichuan Earthquake of 2008?
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Edited on Tue Jan-26-10 09:25 PM by NNadir
Natural disasters are often described as acts of God, but within days of last Mays devastating earthquake in Chinas Sichuan Province, seismologists in and out of China were quietly wondering whether humans might have had a hand in it. Now, the first researchers have gone public with evidence that stresses from water piled behind the new Zipingpu Dam may have triggered the failure of the nearby fault, a failure that went on to rupture almost 300 kilometers of fault and kill some 80,000 people. Still, no one is near to proving that the Wenchuan quake was a case of reservoir triggered seismicity. Theres no question triggered earthquakes happen, says seismologist Leonardo Seeber of the Lamont- Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. That fact and the new evidence argue that the quake-dam connection is worth pursuing further, he says, but proving triggering is not easy.

And the Chinese government is tightly holding key data. Seismologists have been collecting examples of triggered seismicity for 40 years. The surprising thing to me is that you need
very little mechanical disturbance to trigger an earthquake, says Seeber. Removing fluid or rock from the crust, as in oil production or coal mining, could do it. So might injecting fluid to store wastes or sequester carbon dioxide, or adding the weight of 100 meters or so of water behind a dam...


Kerr and Stone, Science Vol 323, page 322, Jan 16, 2009.

The Zipingpu dam survived the earthquake, by the way. About half a million people live downstream from the dam. It is not clear that the dam would have survived Monsoon type levels in the reservoir, but the reservoir was only partially filled on the day of the quake. Engineers quickly drained the reservoir after the quake to repair damage to it.

The Zipingpu dam is upstream from the Three Gorges dam, which in turn is upstream from 40 million people.

A series of serial dam failures in 1975 in China, at Banqiao and other dams downstream from it represents the largest energy disaster of all time, killing more than 1/4 of a million people.

Of course everyone here knows all about that one, given the amount of time we all spend discussing it, which is almost continuously.

Just kidding...

A similar disaster was narrowly averted in the United States in 1983 - a matter that is somewhat obscure - but was averted when the Corp of Engineers went to a local hardware store to get plywood to avert the collapse of Lake Powell, upstream from the Hoover dam.

I covered this point on another website some time ago: A Tale of Two Centimeters: The Near Collapse of the Colorado River Dam System in 1983.

Hydrological triggering of seismicity is being increasingly discussed in the literature. Another example is given in L. Bollinger et al. / Earth and Planetary Science Letters 290 (2010) 2029



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