Engineering Researcher Part of National Team Investigating Haiti Earthquake
The following article was originally published on the Arkansas Newswire web site, written by Matt McGowan, science and research communications officer for the University of Arkansas.
Civil engineering professor Brady Cox will travel to Haiti Saturday, Jan. 30, as part of a national team of engineers who will study the effects of the massive earthquake that struck the small Caribbean nation on Jan. 12. Cox and seven other members of Geo-engineering Extreme Events Reconnaissance (GEER), an organization funded by the National Science Foundation to conduct reconnaissance efforts of extreme events such as earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes, will gather data to advance understanding of earthquakes and their engineering effects.
Cox is an expert in soil dynamics and geotechnical engineering. He will help the GEER team examine the earthquake’s effect on buildings, bridges, utilities and ports. Ultimately, this research will contribute to the design of structures that can respond to the violent effects of earthquakes without failing and possibly save human lives.
The GEER team will be led by Ellen Rathje, professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas. The researchers will be in Haiti for a week.
Cox suspects that Haiti, one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, does not have or does not enforce seismic building codes to mitigate the effects of large earthquakes. The recent earthquake – which measured 7.0 magnitude and whose epicenter was only 10 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the nation’s densely populated capital – caused massive destruction and killed thousands of Haitians. An estimated 150,000 people have died as a result of the earthquake.
Cox would not speculate on how many lives could have been saved if buildings in Port-au-Prince and other towns had been built with properly designed, reinforcing steel to help structures absorb the effects of an earthquake. However, without directly comparing one earthquake to another, he said that much could be learned from the 1994 Northridge, Calif., earthquake, which registered a magnitude of 6.7. In addition to their proximity in magnitude, the events were similar in that they were both relatively shallow earthquakes that affected densely populated areas. Despite these similarities, the earthquake that hit Northridge, where contractors have had to follow earthquake-building codes for many years, killed only 61 people.
Cox specializes in geotechnical engineering issues related to earthquake loading, soil dynamics and nondestructive material characterization using stress waves. He participated in previous GEER deployments immediately following the 2008, magnitude 6.9 earthquake in Iwate-Miyagi, Japan, and the 2007, magnitude 8.0 earthquake in Pisco, Peru.
Cox was also deployed to collect shear-wave velocity data at strong motion stations and soil liquefaction sites following the 2006 earthquake in Kiholo Bay, Hawaii; the 2001 earthquake in Nisqually (Seattle), Wash.; and the 1999 earthquake in Kocaeli, Turkey. In addition to his participation in GEER, Cox is a member of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Arkansas Governor’s Earthquake Advisory Council.
Through the NSF’s GeoEnvironmental Engineering and GeoHazards Mitigation Program, GEER works to formalize the manner in which extreme-events reconnaissance efforts are organized. As mentioned above, teams respond to extreme events to systematically collect perishable data that will help scientists and the public understand the impact of earthquakes, hurricanes, landslides and tsunamis.
GEER researchers map and survey damaged areas and provide hard data for the well-documented case histories that drive the development of new and proven procedures used in engineering practice. Previous reconnaissance teams have addressed seismological settings, as well as the geotechnical, structural and socio-economic impact of extreme events. Specific efforts have focused on understanding strong ground motion distribution, soil liquefaction and ground failure, surface-fault ruptures, landslides and rock falls, and the response of structures.