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Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience

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First Scientist to Visit Sichuan Province

(16 January 2009)

Dr Alex Densmore, Director of Hazards at IHRR was the first UK scientist to visit Sichuan Province to analyse the earthquake zone soon after the May earthquake hit. He worked alongside colleagues from the Chengdu University of Technology, the Seismological Bureau of Sichuan Province and Shell UK. Densmore presented the team's findings at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco in mid-December.

The researchers painstakingly mapped the location, orientation and scale of surface slips in four key places where the earthquake struck. They also used satellite imagery as well as Chinese aerial photographs and overlaid these on existing fault maps of the area. 'In general, the earthquake occurred along faults we knew were active, so in that sense it was foreseeable, but not predictable,' said Densmore. The team compared surface ruptures with evidence of long-term deformation on both mapped and unmapped faults to see which regions had been active in the past. The earthquake appears to have reactivated nearby faults in Sichuan that have shown no previous evidence of having been active recently. Reconstruction efforts are picking up pace and Densmore says that Chinese officials would be well advised to prevent building directly on top of active faults. 'If they consider imposing buffer zones around faults, you could save a lot of lives in the future,' Densmore explained.

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