Dams and Earthquakes

Mounting pressure on Zipingpu dam’s contribution to Wenchuan earthquake

(May 8, 2009) The debate over whether the Zipingpu dam contributed to the severity or timing of last year’s deadly earthquake in China’s Sichuan province continues to attract attention. Fan Xiao, chief engineer of the Regional Geology Investigation Team of the Sichuan Geology and Mineral Bureau, was recently interviewed by Richard Stone for Science magazine.

In the interview Xiao points to new evidence about the flurry of foreshocks around the Zipingpu dam in the months prior to the earthquake. This, he believes, supports the theory that reservoir-induced seismicity (RIS), caused by a rapid drop in water levels in the Zipingpu reservoir, was responsible for the deadly earthquake. Fan called the “swarm” of 200 small earthquakes, including five bigger than magnitude 3 during the evening of February 14, “spectacular.” All of these earthquakes happened when the reservoir level was low, he said.

Fan Xiao reiterated his hope that the Sichuan Seismological Bureau (SSB) would release the data that would allow experts to examine the role of Zipingpu more closely. Though the SSB’s director promised to release the data last October, it remains under wraps.

While he admits that the constant political pressure—both domestically and internationally—is not likely to halt the construction of dams in China, he hopes that it will push the government to pursue better building standards and greater seismic monitoring capabilities that will warn of coming earthquakes and “give people a chance to escape.”

Click here for a full copy of the article.

Probe International monitors the effect of China’s decades-long dam-building spree on the country’s environment and citizens. We have published a number of articles and interviews from scientists that have publicly questioned the Chinese government’s continued construction of dams. China currently has more than 88,000.

Shortly after last year’s earthquake, Probe International published Fan Xiao’s research into the possibility that the Zipingpu dam contributed to the severity of the natural disaster. For more background see:
Controversial Zipingpu dam may have caused China’s deadly earthquake, says Chinese geologist Fan Xiao

Fan Xiao addresses dam concerns
Can’t rule out possibility that dams induced earthquake, says expert

Brady Yauch, Probe International, May 8, 2009

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