Earthquakes: Saving Buildings-Saving Lives

Structural Engineers Make Building More Earthquake Resistant with Moveable Foundation

March 1, 2011

Structural engineers designed a building foundation that can help to minimize damage when an earthquake strikes. The new system allows the base of the building to give way to ground movement by rocking slightly. This reduces the forces of shaking on the structure as a whole. During tests with a 26 foot tall building model, the structureýs frame was left undamaged.

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Science Insider

WHAT CAUSES EARTHQUAKES? An earthquake is the result of a sudden release of stored energy in the Earth's crust triggered by shifting tectonic plates. The Earth's lithosphere is an elaborate network of interconnected plates that move constantly -- far too slow for us to be aware of them, but moving, nonetheless. Occasionally they lock up at the boundaries, and this creates frictional stress. When that gets to be too large a strain, the rocks give way and break and slide along fault lines. This can give rise to a violent displacement of the Earth's crust, which we feel as vibrations or tremors as the pent-up energy is released. However, only 10% or so of the total energy is released in the seismic waves. However, the rest is converted into heat, used to crush and deform rock, or released as friction.

HOW DO SCIENTISTS RATE EARTHQUAKES? An earthquake's magnitude describes how much the ground moves. The scale is logarithmic, which means that when the magnitude increases by one (say from 3 to 4, or from 4 to 5) the amount of ground motion increases by ten times. That is, a magnitude 3 quake leads to ten times as much ground motion as a magnitude 2 quake, and a magnitude 2 leads to ten times as much motion as a magnitude 1. This means that a magnitude 3 is a hundred times as violent as a magnitude 1, and a hundred times less violent than a magnitude 5. The magnitude scale also tells us just how much energy an earthquake released. For example, a magnitude 1 earthquake releases the same amount of energy as 30 pounds of TNT exploding. Although a magnitude 2 earthquake makes the ground move ten times as much as a magnitude 1, it releases 32 times as much energy -- or roughly as much as a ton of TNT. A magnitude 5 earthquake packs the punch of a moderate nuclear weapon, and a magnitude 12 quake would be enough to put a crack all the way through the center of the Earth.

The American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Physical Society and the Materials Research Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.