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On September 20, a massive 7.1 magnitude earthquake shook Mexico’s capital city.
Most of the approximately 230 deaths weren’t from the original movement of the ground, however—in this quake, as in many others, collapsing buildings were the primary killer.
Earthquake - Energy - Movement - Segments - Earth
During an earthquake, the energy released by the movement of huge segments of the Earth’s crust generate powerful forces that spread across hundreds of kilometers. When the base of a building shakes or lurches from the force of an earthquake, the difference between the top and bottom of the building can introduce new stress and strain onto the materials that support the structure, causing them to rupture.
Over the past few decades, new designs and materials have meant that buildings in Mexico City and elsewhere have become better engineered to withstand the forces involved during a quake, but they are far from infallible. Researchers are developing novel techniques to ensure that future structures are even better equipped to avoid collapse. In fact, they may be able to predict or even prevent earthquakes before they happen. But before we get there, we need to understand how our current structures work (and don’t work).
Andrew - Whittaker - Professor - Engineering - University
Andrew Whittaker, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Buffalo, notes that a building during an earthquake is like a person standing on a plank supported on a roller. If someone moves the roller, the base can no longer support the upper weight, which could cause the person to fall. In general, the taller the building, the stronger the difference in forces between the bottom and the top, increasing the likelihood that the material could break.
That’s why many cities in earthquake zones had restrictions on how many stories a building could have, according to Thomas Heaton, a professor of geophysics and civil engineering at the California Institute of Technology.
Of course, some...
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