Seismic barrier protection of critical infrastructure
April 25, 2017
Each year, on average a major magnitude-8 earthquake strikes somewhere in the world. In addition, 10,000 earthquake related deaths occur annually, where collapsing buildings claim by far most lives. Moreover, in recent events, industry activity of oil extraction and wastewater reinjection are suspected to cause earthquake swarms that threaten high-value oil pipeline networks, U.S. oil storage reserves, and civilian homes. Earthquake engineering of building structural designs and materials have evolved over many years to minimize the destructive effects of seismic surface waves. However, even under the best engineering practices, significant damage and numbers of fatalities can still occur. In this paper, we present a novel concept and approach to redirect and attenuate the ground motion amplitudes caused by earthquakes by implementing an engineered subsurface seismic barrier – creating a form of metamaterial. The barrier is comprised of borehole array complexes and trench designs that impede and divert destructive seismic surface waves from a designated 'protection zone'. The barrier is also designed to divert not only surface waves in the aerial plane, but includes vertical 'V' shaped muffler structures composed of opposing boreholes to mitigate seismic waves from diffracting and traveling in the vertical plane. Computational 2D and 3D seismic wave propagation models developed at MIT Lincoln Laboratory suggest that borehole array and trench arrangements are critical to the redirection and self-interference reduction of broadband hazardous seismic waves in the vicinity of the structure to protect. The computational models are compared with experimental data obtained from large bench-scale physical models that contain scaled borehole arrays and trenches. These experiments are carried out at high frequencies, but with suitable material parameters and borehole dimensions. They indicate that effects of a devastating 7.0 Mw -magnitude earthquake can be reduced to those of a minor magnitude-4.5 or -5.5 Mw earthquake within a suitable protection zone. These results are very promising, and warrant validation in field scale tests.