Home » Geologic Hazards » Liquefaction

What is Liquefaction?


liquefaction in Niigata, Japan

Liquefaction in Japan: Tilted apartment buildings at Kawagishi cho, Niigata, Japan; the soils beneath these buildings liquefied during an earthquake in 1964 and provided little support for the building foundations. These tilted buildings and liquefaction in this area are probably the most well known examples of liquefaction and loss of bearing strength. Image and caption by USGS.

Definition of Liquefaction

Liquefaction occurs when vibrations or water pressure within a mass of soil cause the soil particles to lose contact with one another. As a result, the soil behaves like a liquid, has an inability to support weight and can flow down very gentle slopes. This condition is usually temporary and is most often caused by an earthquake vibrating water-saturated fill or unconsolidated soil.




Conditions that Cause Liquefaction

Liquefaction most often occurs when three conditions are met:

  1. loose, granular sediment or fill
  2. saturation by groundwater
  3. strong shaking
liquefaction susceptibility map

California liquefaction map: A portion of a liquefaction susceptibility map of an area near Oakland, California produced by the United States Geological Survey. The map is color-coded to show areas of very high (red), high (orange), moderate (yellow), low (green) and very low (white) susceptibility to liquefaction. This type of map is valuable in making land-use and development decisions. Image by USGS.

Liquefaction Susceptibility Mapping

An understanding of the conditions that cause liquefaction enables geologists to produce maps of liquefaction susceptibility. This has been done for the San Francisco Bay area and other locations where earthquakes might trigger liquefaction. A sample from one of these maps is shown on this page.



Video: Soil liquefaction: Dr. Ellen Rathje uses a model to demonstrate and explain soil liquefaction.

Video: Soil liquefaction: Dr. Ellen Rathje uses a model to demonstrate and explain soil liquefaction.

Video: What is liquefaction? Much of the damage experienced in New Zealand during the 2011 Christchurch earthquake was caused by liquefaction.

Video: What is liquefaction? Much of the damage experienced in New Zealand during the 2011 Christchurch earthquake was caused by liquefaction.



More Earthquakes
  The Japan Earthquake
  Earthquake Lessons
  What Causes a Tsunami?
  Homeowners Insurance
  What is the San Andreas Fault?
  California Earthquake Maps
  New Madrid Seismic Zone
  Geology Tools

geology store

More From Geology.com:


Gems from Space
Gems from Space A number of materials from space have been used as attractive gems.
Gold Pans and Panning Kits
Gold Pans and Panning Kits - classifiers, snuffer bottles. Pans sized for kids to Goliath.
Salt Glaciers
Salt Glaciers are masses of salt that flow downslope under their own weight.
Gemstones of the World
Gemstones of the World - A book by Robert Schumann. Over one million copies sold.
Meteorites
Meteorites - Rocks that were once parts of planets or large asteroids.
Spinel
Spinel: The gemstone that was confused with ruby and sapphire for over 1000 years.
Lake Maracaibo Lightning
World Record Lightning - Lake Maracaibo has more lightning than any other place in the world.
Scoria
Scoria is a dark-colored, extrusive igneous rock with abundant vesicles.