UCLA Professor Jonathan Stewart Researches Japan Devastation

UCLA Professor Jonathan Stewart Researches Japan Devastation

As part of a team of engineers researching natural disaster sites, UCLA professor Jonathan Stewart documented the damage to a road at Kashima port in Japan.

The civil and environmental engineering professor traveled to Japan with a team seeking to understand why structures in the area failed, reports The Daily Bruin.

By Loic Hostetter for The Daily Bruin
April 18, 2001

Shipping containers had been thrown across the dock yard, and cars were strewn across the street when Jonathan Stewart visited the Kashima port in eastern Japan in late March.

The civil and environmental engineering professor traveled to Japan with a team of fellow engineers belonging to the Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance, an organization that sends engineers to natural disaster sites in order to understand why structures in the area failed.

In a preliminary report released shortly after its return, the group found extensive damage to smaller residential and commercial buildings and basic infrastructure, such as gas and water lines.

Because of health and humanitarian concerns, the team could not enter the country for two weeks after the disaster. The group usually tries to enter within a week of the earthquake because with every day that passes, both natural and human factors affect the sites, erasing and interfering with data.

In every major disaster there will be cleanup and recovery efforts on the ground, but this has not stopped the group’s work before. After the Chilean earthquake on Feb. 27, 2010, it was on the ground within a week.

The situation in Japan, however, was exacerbated by the tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear crisis, which limited the area in which the team could travel.

Once the team members arrived, they quickly began creating detailed maps of the affected areas and taking numerous pictures of the damage to document the situation and measure the extent of the damage, Stewart said.

While there, Stewart and his colleagues worked in close coordination with Japanese engineers from universities in and around Tokyo, many of whom they had previously met at meetings and conferences in Japan.

The team was only able to examine 200 km of the 700-km fault, focusing primarily in the region known as the Kanto plain, a large flat region on the eastern seaboard of Japan.

Stewart returned not only with tales of the destruction he and his team witnessed but also the story of the recovery attempts of the region’s residents.

“It’s a testament to (the Japanese people’s) resilience and that of my own hosts who were attempting to do their work and deal with the calamity that happened to their country,” Stewart said.

The most remarkable type of damage that the team noted in the sites it visited was widespread liquefaction, Stewart said. Liquefaction is a process in which the ground during an earthquake will loosen, resulting in extreme soil instability.

The team visited numerous sites near the ocean that had been damaged by the shifting soils, which affected various ports, buildings and levees, Stewart said.

In many areas, liquefaction disrupted sewage and gas lines, cutting off basic necessities to residents.

Despite the harsh conditions, Stewart said the residents were working hard to clean up their neighborhoods without waiting for the government aid and intervention.

After spending a week on the ground, the team left on April 1 and released a preliminary report on April 5.

While their visit to Japan may be over, the work does not end here, Stewart said. Follow-up research will be conducted over the coming months and years in coordination with Japanese researchers. The eventual goal of the project is to provide timely and accurate information to aid with future research and adapt building techniques to improve earthquake resistant structure design.

Stewart said he plans to return in the summer or in the fall to continue mapping and analyzing different sites.

Stewart participated in an April 18 panel discussion on campus about lessons of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Published: Wednesday, April 20, 2011