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 to anticipate the full consequences of dam building?

These are the challenging and fundamental questions that the world’s scientists must confront as they investigate the important case of the Zipingpu reservoir and the Wenchuan earthquake of May 12, 2008.


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