The Wenchuan Earthquake (May 12, 2008), Sichuan Province, China, and resulting geohazards
On Monday, May 12, 2008, a devastating mega-earthquake of magnitude 8.0 struck the Wenchuan area, northwestern Sichuan Province, China. The focal mechanism of the earthquake was successive massive rock fracturing 15 km in depth at Yingxiu. Seismic analysis confirms that the major shock occurred on the Beichuan–Yingxiu Fault and that aftershocks rapidly extended in a straight northeast–southeast direction along the Longmenshan Fault zone. Fatalities approaching a total of 15,000 occurred, with a significant number resulting from four types of seismically triggered geohazards—rock avalanches and landslides, landslide-dammed lakes (“earthquake lakes”), and debris flows. China Geological Survey has identified 4,970 potentially risky sites, 1,701 landslides, 1,844 rock avalanches, 515 debris flows, and 1,093 unstable slopes. Rock avalanches and landslides caused many fatalities directly and disrupted the transportation system, extensively disrupting rescue efforts and thereby causing additional fatalities. Landslide-dammed lakes not only flooded human habitats in upstream areas but also posed threats to potentially inundated downstream areas with large populations. Debris flows become the most remarkable geohazards featured by increasing number, high frequency, and low triggering rainfall. Earthquake-triggered geohazards sequentially induced and transformed to additional hazards. For example, debris flows occurred on rock avalanches and landslides, followed by landslide-dammed lakes, and then by additional debris flows and breakouts of the landslide-dammed lakes and downstream flooding. Earthquake-induced geohazards occurred mainly along the fault zone and decreased sharply with distance from the fault. It can be anticipated that post-earthquake geohazards, particularly for debris flows, will continue for 5–10 years and even for as long as 20 years. An integrated strategy of continuing emergency response and economic reconstruction is required. The lesson from Wenchuan Earthquake is that the resulted geohazards may appear in large number in active fault regions. A plan for geohazard prevention in the earthquake-active mountainous areas is needed in advance.
KeywordsWenchuan Earthquake Geohazards Avalanches Landslides Dammed lakes/Earthquake lakes Debris-flows
This research was supported by State Key fundamental Research Program (973) project (2008CB425802) The authors acknowledge the contributions of Si-ming He, Yong You, Zhan-lu Li, Cao Dang, and Chen-lin Yang, who were involved in the field investigations, and several postgraduate students, who did some of the geohazard mapping. We also thank Dr. Kevin Scott of USGS for his help in improving the English language.
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