Geotechnical aspects of the 22 February 2011 Christchurch earthquake

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The 22 February 2011, Mw6.2-6.3 Christchurch earthquake is the most costly earthquake to affect New Zealand, causing 181 fatalities and severely damaging thousands of residential and commercial buildings, and most of the city lifelines and infrastructure. This manuscript presents an overview of observed geotechnical aspects of this earthquake as well as some of the completed and on-going research investigations. A unique aspect, which is particularly emphasized, is the severity and spatial extent of liquefaction occurring in native soils. Overall, both the spatial extent and severity of liquefaction in the city was greater than in the preceding 4th September 2010 Darfield earthquake, including numerous areas that liquefied in both events. Liquefaction and lateral spreading, variable over both large and short spatial scales, affected commercial structures in the Central Business District (CBD) in a variety of ways including: total and differential settlements and tilting; punching settlements of structures with shallow foundations; differential movements of components of complex structures; and interaction of adjacent structures via common foundation soils. Liquefaction was most severe in residential areas located to the east of the CBD as a result of stronger ground shaking due to the proximity to the causative fault, a high water table approximately Im from the surface, and soils with composition and states of high susceptibility and potential for liquefaction. Total and differential settlements, and lateral movements, due to liquefaction and lateral spreading is estimated to have severely compromised 15,000 residential structures, the majority of which otherwise sustained only minor to moderate damage directly due to inertial loading from ground shaking. Liquefaction also had a profound effect on lifelines and other infrastructure, particularly bridge structures, and underground services. Minor damage was also observed at flood stop banks to the north of the city, which were more severely impacted in the 4th September 2010 Darfield earthquake. Due to the large high-frequency ground motion in the Port hills numerous rock falls and landslides also occurred, resulting in several fatalities and rendering some residential areas uninhabitable.

Publication Title

Bulletin of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering