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Earthquake engineering: Building a ‘quake resilient’ nation

As nearly 30% of India is ­vulnerable to earthquakes of severe intensity, geologists, seismologists and earthquake engineers can play a huge role in minimising loss of lives and property

education Updated: May 09, 2015 16:11 IST
Gauri Kohli
Gauri Kohli
Hindustan Times
Indian Institutes of Technology,Indian Institute of Science,National Institutes of Technology

The earthquake in Nepal last week which led to widespread loss of lives and property underlines the importance of geologists, seismologists and earthquake engineering specialists to predict such disasters and prevent deaths and destruction.

Earthquake ­engineering

According to Vasant Matsagar, associate professor, department of civil engineering, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, “Geology, seismology, geotechnical engineering, and earthquake engineering are treated differently; wherein, the experts respectively are geologists, seismologists, geotechnical engineers, and earthquake engineers. There is a wide scope in India as well as abroad for students who study and conduct research in these areas. There are, however, varying degrees of opportunities available in government organisations, multinational companies, educational institutes, research organisations, and corporates.”

In India, the IITs, Indian Institute of Science and National Institutes of Technology, and other engineering colleges train students in earthquake engineering. “Several research projects in the area of earthquake engineering have been completed which were funded mostly by the government departments such as Department of Science and Technology (DST). The technical contributions made in the form of patents, research articles published by the faculty members, researchers, and students in the area of earthquake engineering enormously contribute in advancement of the knowledge and its dissemination within stakeholders.

This research over a period of years transpired in the building codes and standards, which is governed by the Bureau of Indian Standards. Several IIT faculty members, who are actively engaged in earthquake engineering research, are members of the BIS code drafting committees,” says Matsagar.

Apart from their studies and research, the IIT faculty members are engaged in outreach activities for capacity building, spreading awareness and knowledge enhancement of the technicians, stakeholders, and society at large on earthquake engineering; thereby, bridging the gap between theory and practice. “The IIT faculty members are considered to be the competent authority for approval of design and drawings of civil engineering structures for their safety from earthquakes. Notably, no other peer group could measure up to IIT faculty members in terms of research-based knowledge in earthquake engineering which is required to understand the design philosophy of the standard codes of practice published by the BIS for correct interpretation and implementation of the design criteria,” he adds.

Geology and ­seismology

Geologists and seismologists, on the other do research on the origin of seismic activities by studying the earth’s composition, its cross-sectional properties, materials, and more specifically the ‘plate tectonics.’ Moreover, they study geological features such as faults, their orientations etc and their effect on seismic activities. This information is helpful in the assessment of probability of seismic hazard at a given site or location. Geotechnical engineers conduct research on soil and rock behaviour when subjected to earthquake ground excitations. The structural engineers conduct research on earthquake resistant design of structures (buildings, bridges, tanks, dams, nuclear facilities etc). Also, they work towards making the earthquake resilient society by building appropriate infrastructure. “As we are not yet able to find precursors of earthquakes, the studies on active faults and thrusts, neotectonics, liquefaction and seismic hazard zonation and vulnerability studies can help in risk assessment and disaster management in earthquake prone areas by constructions as per BIS standards. Structural geology, geophysics, geotechnical studies and disaster management are other areas that have immense scope. Besides Geological Survey of India, mining, oil and natural gas companies, students can find jobs in geotechnical domain, remote sensing, climate change and disaster management,” says CS Dubey, head, Centre for Advanced Studies in the department of geology, Delhi University.

Students can also explore the domain of Himalayan research. Institutes such as Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, an autonomous institute of the DST, is an earth science institution engaged in advance level of research in all aspects of geology and geodynamics of the Himalayas, including geological mapping, glaciological changes, Himalayan uplift, changes in monsoon precipitation, structure and tectonics and geophysical studies. The institute provides two fellowships – junior research fellowship and institute research associate. Students with an MSc/PhD degree in corresponding discipline are eligible to apply. “Ours is a research institution with a mandate to carry out cutting-edge research in the Himalayas. One can do research on glaciers, earthquakes, geothermal energy, climate, landslides, geo-resources, river systems and geodynamic evolution of the Himalayas,” says Anil K Gupta, director, Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun.

The Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research is another multidisciplinary research institute established by the DST. The institute is also involved in extensive research on the Himalayan seismic zone. The Institute of Seismological Research in Gujarat and CSIR- National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad are other examples.

Where to study
* Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs)
* Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru
* National Institutes of Technology (NITs)
* Delhi University
* Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun
* Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad
* University of California, Berkeley
* Harvard University
* University of Cambridge
* Massachusetts Institute of Technology
* Stanford University

(With inputs from Aanchal Bedi)

First Published: May 06, 2015 13:13 IST