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$5 million on the Richter scale: McGill-based seismic research network to help protect Canadians from earthquakes

Published: 25 Sep 2009

Canadian Seismic Research Network supported by a grant from NSERC

Canadian Seismic Research Network supported by a grant from NSERC

McGill University is home to a new, $5-million research network that will help identify, assess and mitigate the risks posed by earthquakes in major Canadian cities.

McGill is headquarters and lead institution of the eight-university Canadian Seismic Research Network (CSRN). The network, which is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), was announced today by the Hon. Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Science and Technology).

According to the Canadian Risk and Hazards Network, a significant earthquake is probably Canada's greatest potential natural disaster, especially since so much urban infrastructure in Canada was built before the introduction of modern seismic provisions in the mid-1970s. The CSRN brings together 26 researchers from across the country, tasked with developing the tools and methodologies to significantly reduce urban seismic risk.

"All existing structures, including buildings and bridges built before 1970 have a lot of seismic deficiencies," said CSRN Progam Leader Denis Mitchell, of McGill's Department of Civil Engineering. "As people become more aware of that, they want to assess the risks. Which is where we come in."

The CSRN will be developing seismic "micro-zonation" maps of major cities which will enable researchers to determine the seismic risks faced by particular structures in different city regions.

"Once we finish the initial guidelines, then we're going to write guidelines for rehabilitating those structures to give them the proper strength and performance to resist a major earthquake."

Even though the general public usually associates earthquakes only with the Pacific Coast, Mitchell stressed that in eastern Canada, we cannot afford to be complacent.

"We had a magnitude 6 earthquake in the Saguenay region in 1988, and it caused some damage," he said. "Historically, we have had magnitude 7 earthquakes in Quebec. That would have 10 times the ground motion of a magnitude 6, so you can imagine what would happen to our older stock of buildings and bridges if that happened in an urban area. We're trying to reduce that risk."

The other institutions affiliated with the CSRN are Université de Sherbrooke, École Polytechnique de Montréal, University of Ottawa, Carleton University, University of Toronto, University of Western Ontario and the University of British Columbia.

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