2008 Sichuan Earthquake Likely Man-Made

A new study (PDF) published by Probe International, based on around 60 other studies of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, backs earlier arguments that the disaster was caused by the weight of the Zipingpu dam reservoir. The authors suggest that extensive plans for further hydropower projects in vulnerable regions should be urgently reconsidered.

The Chinese earthquake that killed 80,000 people in May of 2008 most likely was not an act of God, a study released today has found. Rather, the culprit was probably a nearby hydro-electric dam whose construction and operation triggered one of the world’s worst disasters of the century.
The study by Fan Xiao, a Chinese geologist and chief engineer of the Regional Geological Survey Team of the Sichuan Geology and Mineral Bureau, arrived at this conclusion after an analysis of some 60 studies of the earthquake, conducted between 2008 and 2012.
In the aftermath of the deadly Sichuan-area, Wenchuan earthquake, many scientists suspected the Zipingpu Dam of causing the quake. Chinese authorities denied it, saying that the epicentre of the quake was too deep and on an unrelated fault and, therefore, not a case of reservoir-induced seismicity.
But Chinese authorities appear to have been wrong on both counts, says Mr. Fan.

The paper concludes (PDF):

The Zipingpu reservoir’s apparent triggering of the Wenchuan earthquake is an unprecedented case of reservoir-induced seismicity that presents huge challenges for scientific theory.
[…] Could widespread and largely unchecked dam-building in China’s southwestern region, where the stress field area is large and high risk, as indicated by the UN’s Global Seismic Hazard maps, trigger RIS events that could in turn trigger larger regional earthquakes? Could this case of the Wenchuan tectonic earthquake, induced by a reservoir, still be defined as a traditional case of RIS, or must the science of RIS be redefined

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5 Responses to 2008 Sichuan Earthquake Likely Man-Made

  1. Joel Davey says:

    Is ther anyway I could get info on the mass of the dam?Or approx Weight??

    • Samuel Wade says:

      It’s the mass of the water in the reservoir, rather than of the dam itself, that’s the issue. The paper states that fluctuations in the reservoir level over the two years leading up to the quake repeatedly loaded and unloaded around 740 million tonnes of water.

  2. Will says:

    This study by Probe International deserves to be publicized more widely, even worldwide, both to aid in the management of existing hydropower dams and in the decision-making process for siting new hydropower dams.

  3. ChasL says:

    Samuel, this has got to be one of the biggest anti-China BS you’ve written. It’s already proven fact the 8.0 quake was not caused by the dam. Fan Xiao’s clain has long been debunked.

    Sichuan provincial Earthquake Administration Reservoir Earthquake Research Institute’s Hu Xianping published in <> in June 2007. The article was titled . Obviously, Hu Xianming was talking about 735 magnitude 0.9-3.6 earthquakes that occurred before the Zipingpu dam began to store water.

    240-meter-high Ertan Dam built in 1999 on the Yalongjiang River has a total storage capacity of 5.8 billion cubic meters; the 132-meter-high Baozhusi Dam has a total storage capacity of 2.6 billion cubic meters. “All those dams have never induced a destructive earthquake measuring above six degrees on the Richter scale, not to mention an 8.0-magnitude one like the Wenchuan quake

    • Samuel Wade says:

      I don’t see how it’s “anti-China”. I specifically chose a passage from the study’s conclusion that described the disaster as “an unprecedented case … that presents huge challenges for scientific theory”, potentially redefining the whole field. In other words, there’s no way this result could have been anticipated, so no one’s alleging negligence, let alone malice. The point, as I said in the intro, is that if the dangers from reservoir-induced seismicity are greater or less predictable than formerly believed, that needs to be borne in mind in the future.

      Thanks for the link, I’ll take a look.