You are on page 1of 12


Martin Wieland
Chairman, ICOLD Committee on Seismic Aspects of Dam Design
Electrowatt-Ekono AG, Hardturmstrasse 161, CH-8037 Zurich, Switzerland

The effects of recent earthquakes on dams are presented and the observed
historical earthquake behaviour of large embankment and concrete dams is
summarized. The guidelines published recently by the Committee on Seismic Aspects
of Dam Design of the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) are presented,
and the terms of reference of the Committee are discussed, they include the following
Seismic safety of existing dams;
Seismic interpretation of integrated observation data;
Reservoir-triggered seismicity; and
Seismic risk determination and related techniques.
Furthermore, the current activities of the Committee in the field of earthquake safety
of dams are discussed. A list of subjects on dams and earthquakes, which need further
attention in the future, is given.
The importance of earthquake safety of large dams is presented in the general
context of dam safety. Furthermore, the need for safe rural dams and strong motion
instrumentation of large dams is emphasized.
Keywords: Earthquake safety of dams, reservoir-triggered seismicity, strong motion instrumentation,
seismic risk, embankment dams, concrete dams
1. Recent Earthquakes and Dams
The following recent earthquakes have had some impact on dams:
(i) October 6, 2000, Western Tottori earthquake, Japan, M = 6.6:
Kasho gravity dam, undamaged under PGA of 0.53 g and peak crest acceleration of 2.1g;
PGA in epicentral region > 0.5 g.
(ii) January 26, 2001 Bhuj earthquake, Gujarat, India, Richter magnitude: M = ca. 7.9 (Fig. 1):
ca. 200 dams (mainly earth dams) with a height of less than 30 m need upgrading;
ca. 18 large irrigation dams were severely damaged mainly due to liquefaction;
the reservoirs were almost empty at time of the earthquake preventing complete failure of the
severely damaged dams;
no strong motion data available.

(iii) March 24, 2001 Hiroshima earthquake, Japan, M = 6.8:

cracks and settlements in 184 earth structures;
peak ground acceleration (PGA) in epicentral region > 0.5 g.
(iv) June 23, 2001, South Peru earthquake, Peru, M = 8.4:
deformations, cracks and liquefaction in tailings dams and tailings.


Observed Earthquake Performance of Large Dams

The historical earthquake behaviour of large dams can be summarized as follows:
(i) General behaviour
Earthquakes have damaged very few dams.
Only about a dozen dams are known to have failed primarily tailings and hydraulic fill
Only a small number of other embankment or gravity dams of significant size have been
No people are known to have been killed due to the failure of a well-engineered dam during a
strong earthquake.
(ii) Observed earthquake performance of embankment dams
Modern well-built embankment dams have performed well.
Compacted clay dams have performed well.
Rockfill and concrete-faced rockfill dams have performed well.
Insufficiently compacted sand or silt dams and tailings and hydraulic fill dams have

performed poorly.
(iii) Observed earthquake performance of large concrete dams
Concrete arch dams have performed very well, but few have been exposed to very strong
ground shaking.
Concrete gravity and buttress dams have generally performed well.
Shih-Kang dam experience (1999 Chi-Chi earthquake, Taiwan) confirmed that concrete
dams cannot be designed to accommodate large fault movements.
Case studies on the effects of earthquakes on large dams can be found in ICOLD Bulletin 120 [5].
The most interesting cases are listed below:

Largest dam: The worlds largest dam, Usoi dam, with a maximum height of ca. 650 m is
a landslide dam formed during a strong earthquake in 1911. The landslide (dam) volume is
over 2 billion m3 and the reservoir stored behind this dam, Lake Sarez, has a volume of 17
billion m3 and a maximum water depth of some 600 m (Fig. 2).


Reservoir-triggered seismicity: Koyna dam in India, a 102 m high straight gravity dam,
and Hsinfengkiang dam in China, a 104 m high buttress dam, were shaken as the result of
nearby earthquakes of Magnitudes 6.5 (1967) and 6.1 (1962), respectively. Both events
were suspected of being caused by reservoir-triggered seismicity. Both dams developed
substantial longitudinal cracking near the top. Damage was attributed to design or
construction details that would be avoided in modern structures. The two dams were
repaired and strengthened and are still in service.


Largest recorded accelerations: The 113 m high Pacoima arch dam in California was
exposed to very strong ground shaking during the 1971 San Fernando and the 1994
Northridge earthquakes. In 1971 the peak acceleration measured on a ridge above the dam
crest was 1.2 g and in 1994 peak accelerations at the crest exceeded 2 g. The dam
suffered only minor damage, but the reservoir was not full during both earthquakes.


Embankment dam failure due to liquefaction: The 38 m high Lower Van Norman Dam,
a hydraulic fill dam, experienced widespread liquefaction and major slope failures.
Overtopping of the crest and flooding of an area involving over 70,000 downstream residents
was avoided because the reservoir water level was relatively low for the season when the
earthquake occurred (Fig. 3).


Concrete dam: The 106 m high Sefid Rud buttress dam was severely damaged by the
magnitude 7.5 Manjil earthquake in the northwestern part of Iran. The epicentre was
assumed to be less than one kilometre away from the dam site. This dam has probably
been exposed to the strongest earthquake ground shaking of any concrete dam and the
observed damage may be representative for the damage to be expected in gravity dams
under the effect of the maximum credible earthquake. The dam was repaired and is still in
service (Fig. 4).


Concrete dams subjected to fault movements: The Shih-Kang weir in Taiwan was
severely damaged by faulting during the 1999 Chi-Chi earthquake (Fig. 5). The complete
reservoir was released but did not cause serious flooding. Moreover, Inguri arch dam in
Georgia, which with 271 m is the worlds highest arch dam, is located on a potentially
active fault [5].

3. Background on Bulletins of Committee on Seismic Aspects of Dam Design

The Committee on Seismic Aspects of Dam Design, which comprises dam and earthquake experts
from about 25 different countries, has published the following ICOLD Bulletins during the past couple of
years [1] [6]:

Bulletin 52 (1986), Earthquake analysis procedures for dams State of the Art


Bulletin 72 (1989): Selecting seismic parameters for large dams


Bulletin 112 (1998): Neotectonics and dams


Bulletin 113 (1999): Seismic observation of dams


Bulletin 120 (2001): Design features of dams to effectively resist seismic ground motion


Bulletin 123 (2002): Earthquake design and evaluation of structures appurtenant to dams

These bulletins represent the state-of-practice in the field of earthquakes and dams and are followed
by most countries, which do not have any specific earthquake guidelines for the seismic design and the
earthquake safety evaluation of existing dams. From that point of view the ICOLD guidelines are a sort of
universal documents for dam engineers. Such widely used guidelines do hardly exist in other civil
engineering disciplines. For example, most countries have their own earthquake codes for buildings and
bridges. The unification and harmonization of these codes is a major effort, which can take years. A
typical example is the Eurocode 8: Design provisions for earthquake resistance of structures, whose
implementation in Europe will take more than 10 years. Therefore, some parts and concepts of this code
may already be outdated when it is approved. Moreover, because the application of the Eurocode is
considered to be cumbersome by many engineers, country-specific versions of this code are under
preparation. Which is essentially in contradiction to the basic idea of this code.
In the case of large dams the approval process of Bulletins, which are equivalent to codes in several
countries, is straightforward. Typically, an ICOLD Bulletin is prepared within about 6 years, by committee
members, who are working on a voluntary basis. Because of this practice, the ICOLD Bulletins are very
up-to-date and can be easily adapted to new developments. Because of the general acceptance of the
ICOLD guidelines, the dam safety standards in most parts of the world are quite homogeneous and all
dam engineers speak the same language.
4. Terms of Reference of Current Committee on Seismic Aspects of Dam Design
The terms of reference of the current Committee were approved during the Annual ICOLD Meeting,
which was held in Antalya, Turkey in 1999, i.e.

Seismic safety of existing dams: A large number of the existing dams were designed
according to analytical possibilities prevailing at the time the respective dams were built.
More precise knowledge on existing dams safety (using up to date analyses) are
increasingly considered a necessity. The focus will be on the reassessment of the seismic
safety of existing dams.


Seismic interpretation of integrated observation data: The primary objective is to look

into the existing strong motion data recorded at large dams. But modern automated
observation of dams also furnishes response time histories of deformations and stresses in
the dam body and its foundations, under seismic loads. Integrated consideration of such
results, provides a fuller picture of dam response. The focus will be on the strong motion
instrumentation of large dams.


Reservoir-triggered seismicity (RTS): An understanding of reservoir-triggered seismicity

phenomena was reached during the 1970ies. But observation data and general knowledge
about the seismic response of dam impounding, are accumulating. A general reassessment
of the state of knowledge in this field, is the objective. In general, RTS is not a safety
problem for large dams designed according to the current ICOLD guidelines as the
maximum RTS event is smaller than the maximum credible earthquake used for seismic
dam safety evaluations.


Seismic risk determination and related techniques: One of the basic objectives in
safety considerations is the determination of seismic risk for each particular dam. A review
of the resulting seismic parameters is intended. The focus will be on the seismic hazard
assessment for dams.

Work on these four subjects is under way. The most important subject is the seismic safety of
existing dams as the majority of the older dams were built using methods of seismic analysis and
seismic design criteria (most dams were designed against earthquakes using a seismic coefficient of
0.1), which, today, are considered as obsolete or outdated. Therefore, in many cases, it is not known if
an old dam complies with the new seismic safety guidelines published by ICOLD.
This problem has been recognized by the dam community, and several countries are looking into the
seismic safety of the existing dams.
A seismic safety evaluation and upgrading program was carried out in California in the 1990es. As a
consequence, a number of dams - mainly embankment dams - had to be strengthened by e.g.
increasing the crest width and/or by flattening of the slopes, increasing the freeboard etc. A quick
reduction in the seismic risk of a dam can be achieved by simply lowering the reservoir level. However,
that means loss of benefits and if adopted, this solution can only be a short-term solution.
More specifically some of the following tasks shall also be tackled:
Review of seismic criteria for the design of new dams and the safety evaluation of existing
Identification of deficiencies in the seismic safety of existing dams;
Assessment of earthquake behaviour of dams subjected to strong ground shaking based on
the results of seismic monitoring systems;
Re-analysis of dams subjected to strong ground shaking;
Review of design criteria for the earthquake-resistant design of hydromechanical equipment
in dams; and
Seismic instrumentation of large dams.
Furthermore, it is planned to prepare so-called position papers on a number of subjects in order to
increase awareness in the seismic safety of dams, i.e.
Public awareness in seismic safety of existing (irrigation) dams
Strong motion instrumentation of dams
Seismic aspects of concrete face rockfill and roller compacted concrete dams
Seismic hazard criteria (OBE, MCE etc.)
Hydrodynamic pressures in penstocks and bottom outlets
Seismic analysis models for cracked dams (MCE)
Seismic stresses in concrete dams and hydrodynamic pressures in cracks
Seismic size effects in large dams, etc.
5. ICOLD Congress Montreal 2003
During the next ICOLD Congress, to be held in Montreal, Canada, in 2003 one of the four questions
to be discussed in the ICOLD congresses is QUESTION 83: Seismic Aspects of Dams (General
Reporter: M. Wieland). Specifically, the following topics will be discussed under this question:

Seismic hazard evaluation of the dam site - Risk of reservoir-triggered seismic event Selection of design earthquake - Selection of seismic parameters for dynamic analysis.
Dynamic material properties for concrete and embankment dams, including foundations Laboratory tests and field measurements.
Design, analysis and construction features to ensure seismic safety (including appurtenant
works and equipment).
Evaluation of seismic safety of dams.
Performance of dams under seismic loading - Lessons learnt for future projects.

It is expected that the technical papers and presentations will lead to a better understanding of the
earthquake effects on dams and the seismic safety of large dams.
Earthquake aspects were discussed the last time during the 1979 Congress in New Delhi. Since
then substantial progress has been achieved in the earthquake engineering of large dams.
6. Seismic Topics Requiring Further Attention
As the field of earthquake safety of dams is still under development, new lessons are learnt from
each strong earthquake, which either causes damage to a large dam, or provides strong motion records
of instrumented dams. As very few large concrete dams have been damaged during an earthquake and
since the few dynamic model tests carried out with dam models up to rupture are not really
representative, there are still considerable uncertainties about the behaviour of a dam under the
maximum credible earthquake (MCE) or safety evaluation earthquake (SEE). It may be expected that in
the coming years further developments are made, e.g., in the following fields:

inelastic earthquake behaviour of dams under strong ground shaking of MCE/SEE;

dam design to resist MCE/SEE including development of simplified method for the assessment
of the dynamic stability of cracked concrete dams and the dynamic slope stability of
embankment dams;

efficient seismic strengthening of existing dams;

seismic hazard assessment and refinement of seismic dam design criteria;

short-term behaviour of mass concrete, RCC and embankment dam materials (dynamic tensile
strength of mass concrete, tensile strength in lift joints and contraction joints);

simulation of effect of fault movements in dam foundations on behaviour and safety of dam;

seismic safety of concrete face rockfill (CFR) and roller compacted concrete (RCC) dams;

seismic design and safety of underground structures (tunnels, caverns, shafts);

hydromechanical equipment (gates, penstock, valves, bottom outlets, intake structures etc.)

dynamic rock slope stability in reservoir area, triggering of landslides and rockslides (mass
movements) in reservoir area;

foundation stability of dams during earthquakes, etc.

We have to keep in mind that in most dam sites earthquakes with a Richter magnitude of 6 or larger
is possible. If such an earthquake has a shallow focus, then the peak ground acceleration (PGA) in the
epicentral region can reach values of over 0.5g. The PGA-values in the epicentral region for earthquakes
exceeding 6.5 are about the same as that of a magnitude 6 event, if the focus is shallow. The main
difference between a low and high magnitude event is the duration of strong ground shaking as a
magnitude 6 event has a limited source area (approx. point source) whereas high magnitude events have
extended source areas (faulting over tens or hundreds of kilometres).
The dam engineers have not yet taken this fact into account. The PGA-values typically used for the
MCE are still within 0.1g to 0.2 g in areas of low to moderate seismicity, and up to about 0.6g in highly
seismic regions.
Higher PGA-values (MCE) can be expected in the future for large dams located in areas of low to
moderate seismicity.
7. Dam Safety Aspects

Basically, dam safety includes the following structural and non-structural elements:
(i) Structural Safety
Dam geometry and stiffness;
Strength and ductility;
Deformations and stability, etc.
(ii) Safety Monitoring
Strong motion instrumentation;
Walk-down after a seismic event;
Data analysis and interpretation, etc.
(iii) Operational Safety
Rule curves and operation guidelines;
Experienced and qualified staff, etc.
(iv) Emergency Planning
Water alarm;
Flood mapping and evacuation plans;
Engineering back-up, etc.
These safety features are also essential for the earthquake risk assessment of a dam.
8. Earthquake Safety of Large Dams
Despite the fact that considerable progress has been achieved in understanding the earthquake
behaviour of concrete and embankment dams since the 1971 San Fernando earthquake in California
which has caused (i) some minor damage to the Pacoima arch dam and provided acceleration records at
the dam abutment with PGA-values of 1.25, and (ii) damage to the San Fernando dams (hydraulic fill
dams) due to soil liquefaction.
Due to this event our understanding of the liquefaction phenomenon has been greatly enhanced;
however, almost all of the large modern embankment dams do not fall under the category of hydraulic fill
dams. Furthermore, as far as concrete dams are concerned the linear-elastic numerical analysis
methods have greatly advanced, i.e. the dynamic interaction effects between dam and foundation and the
water in the reservoir can now be modelled more exactly from a theoretical point of view. However, there
remain several questions and each strong earthquake reveals new problems, which have to be solved -,
which need the close attention of the dam engineers and the parties responsible for the safety of large
dams. The main concerns are:
Mass concrete is a brittle material with a relatively small dynamic tensile strength (tensile strength
also depends on size effect); there is a conceptual problem as on one hand unreinforced concrete is
acceptable for large concrete dams whereas on the other hand, new seismic building codes do not allow
such structures in seismic regions.
Roller compacted concrete (RCC) is increasingly used for concrete dams; the seismic safety of such
dams has not yet been tested in the field under a real earthquake. As a matter of fact, very few large
concrete or rockfill dams have experienced earthquake shaking similar to that of the MCE/SEE.
New types of embankment dams with alternate cores and diaphragms, concrete faced rockfill dams
with steep slopes and dams on soft soil call for new seismic design criteria and solutions.
The majority of the existing dams have been designed for earthquake action based on methods,
which are no longer accepted today. The modern seismic design criteria are more strict than those used
in the past.
Currently the following seismic design criteria are suggested by ICOLD:
(i) Operating Basis Earthquake (OBE):
Dam safety: not relevant for dam safety
Return period: ca. 145 years
Performance: no structural damage
PGA in area of high seismicity: ca. < 0.2 to 0.3 g
(ii) Maximum Credible Earthquake (MCE) and Maximum Design Earthquake (MDE):
Dam safety: relevant for dam safety

Return period: ca. 800 years (Chile) 30000 years (U.K.)

Performance: no uncontrolled release of water from reservoir, structural damage accepted
PGA in area of high seismicity: ca. > 0.4 to 0.5 g

Strong motion data, which have increasingly become available during the last 30 years, indicate that
the PGA-values used for the earthquake-resistant design have little in common with the measured PGAvalues in the epicentral region of a strong earthquake, i.e. the pseudostatic design acceleration of 0.1g
used for most existing dams has to be compared with PGA-values of a magnitude 6 to 6.5 event of over
Unlike other actions, strong earthquakes will remain unpredictable and they have the capability to
damage (or even destroy) large dams. Fortunately that has not yet been the case for large concrete
dams. In the case of embankment dams, several dams have been severely damaged during an
earthquake, however, no catastrophic release of water has been reported, which has caused significant
loss of lives.
It has also not been able to make full use of the research work carried out at universities, because
the majority of the researchers are not familiar with the interdisciplinary nature of dam projects and tend
to focus on narrow research topics whereas the dam engineers find it difficult to integrate new findings in
a particular discipline in a global multidisciplinary safety concept for a dam.
The gap between research and practice seems to widen, i.e. new findings are often ignored. The
researchers must understand more about the relevant dam safety issues and the dam engineers should
be more aware of new developments provided by researchers. It will be a specific task of the earthquake
committee to close this gap.
9. Earthquake Safety of Rural Dams
Irrigation and water supply dams are earth dams with a height of less than say 15 m and are referred
to as rural dams. These dams are not within the scope of ICOLD, which is concerned with dams with a
height of more than 15 m. They are often built by local communities and with the help of NGOs (Non
Government Organizations), who have little or no experience in dam engineering. This situation is
characteristic for the Indian Subcontinent and the following discussion may not be applicable to other
parts of the world. It has to be emphasized that rural dams are different from the well-engineered dams
for hydropower projects.
Due to the fact that the catastrophic failure of a small dam will have an adverse impact on the whole
dam industry, it is necessary that also these rural dams satisfy the basic design and safety criteria.
The failure of small rural dams may be due to floods, piping, earthquakes etc. The Bhuj earthquake
of January 26, 2001 has shown that these dams are vulnerable to earthquake. The dams have been
damaged mainly by liquefaction causing cracks, deformations and settlements. Due to the fact that the
reservoirs were practically empty during the time of the earthquake no catastrophic dam failure has
If an earthquake would have happened at the end of the Monsoon period, then damage to the
saturated earth dams would have been much more severe and several of the reservoirs would have been
released causing widespread flooding. Moreover, water would not have been available for some time for
irrigation and households.
Who is responsible for this situation? It is easy to blame the government for not supervising and
enforcing the safety of these dams. At the same time the NGOs have to be blamed for getting involved in
activities, which are beyond their core competence. Thus large numbers of unsafe rural dams are being
built with their help.
There exist guidelines for the construction of small dams but it is not known if they are followed
The ultimate responsibility for the safety of these dams is with the organizations, which build them
and hand them over to the local communities. The communities expect that these dams, which satisfy
their needs, are also structurally safe.
In the Final Report of the World Commission of Dams (WCD) published in November 2000 [7],
environmental, ecological, economic, socio-economic and political problems related to dam projects
were addressed. However, the subject of dam safety was largely ignored. It is obvious that the basic
requirement of any project and technology is safety. To offer unsafe products is gross negligence, which
has severe legal consequences. This also applies to the NGOs and self-help organizations, which are

building or supporting the construction of rural dams in India. Ignorance of technological safety
requirements is no excuse, as the state-of-the-art in construction of safe dam is well known.
It is unfortunate that the NGOs, who vigorously oppose large dams and who are in some cases
concerned with the seismic safety of these projects also get involved in the construction of small rural
dams, which do not satisfy the minimum (seismic) safety criteria. The large dams must be able to
withstand the MCE according to the current state-of-the-art in dam construction. Therefore, the water in
the reservoir can be stored safely even in the case of a very strong earthquake with a very low probability
of occurrence.
The rural dams, which are not earthquake safe, may fail under earthquakes, which occur much more
frequently than the MCE. A typical example is the Bhuj earthquake. Moreover, it has to be considered
that a strong earthquake can cause damage over an area of several thousand square kilometres, where
several rural dams are located storing water of similar volume as a large dam. Therefore, in view of the
fact that the failure probabilities of rural dams are orders of magnitude higher than that of well-engineered
large dams and in view of the total amount of water stored behind rural dams, it can be concluded that
the total earthquake risk of small dams may be significantly higher than that of large dams.
This leads to the fundamental question of: are many small dams storing the same volume of water
safer than a large dam? In general, one would conclude that the concept of many small dams is safer.
But unfortunately this intuitive assumption is incorrect in the case of strong earthquakes as discussed
above. In particular due to the fact that most rural dams have been built by organizations, who have no
experience in dam engineering and, therefore, the earthquake safety of these dams is unknown. Based
on the experience during the Bhuj earthquake it has to be assumed that the earthquake safety of these
dams is often inadequate and by far inferior to that of well-engineered large dams.
10. Strong Motion Instrumentation
The conventional monitoring instruments installed in large dams are well suited for the control of the
long-term and quasi-static behaviour of a dam. Accordingly, the frequency of most static readings is of
the order of one measurement per week or month. However, processes such as cracking in concrete
dams and actions like earthquakes cannot be recorded satisfactorily by these instruments.
The main dynamic actions are those caused by strong earthquakes in the vicinity of a dam, i.e.
vibrations in the dam body causing cracks and settlements, faulting in the dam foundation and water
waves in the reservoir. Other short-duration phenomena are impulsive waves caused by mass movements
and avalanches into the reservoir, wind-induced water waves, terrorist attacks and military actions, and
dynamic loads caused by faulty operation of hydro- and electro-mechanical equipments as well as
accidents during repair and maintenance works. In addition, it is necessary to monitor fracture processes
in concrete dams (formation and propagation of cracks in concrete dams), progressive failure of slopes in
embankment dams, which may be triggered by sudden changes in the water level in the reservoir, effects
due to very low temperatures, reservoir-triggered seismic phenomena, etc.
As some of these processes and actions may jeopardize the safety of a dam, it is important to
monitor the response of the dam caused by such unpredictable phenomena.
Today, the strong motion accelerometers available on the market are highly reliable, are able to
record both small amplitude vibrations as well as motions caused by strong earthquakes or even
explosions. Moreover, during the last decade the cost of digital sensors and recorders have dropped and
at the same time the performance of these instruments and the data analysis features built in these
systems have improved dramatically.
Similar to other types of monitoring systems, strong motion instruments do not improve the
structural safety of an existing dam. But dam monitoring forms a key element in the overall safety
concept of a dam, which comprises the following:
Structural safety (capability of a dam to resist water load, earthquake forces and other types
of forces and actions);
Dam safety monitoring (evaluation of dam behaviour and safety based on visual and
instrumentally recorded data);
Safe operation (safe operation of reservoir on the basis of reliable rule curves and well-trained
staff); and
Emergency management (timely warning of the population in the case of an accident and
preparation of evacuation plans, etc.).
Records of strong motion instruments could actually be used to contribute to all four of the above
safety elements of a large dam project. But dam safety monitoring is the most obvious application for

accelerometers. However, these state-of-the-art instruments can easily be used to issue an alarm, if
critical acceleration or spectrum intensity values etc. are exceeded. Therefore, strong motion
instruments installed within the dam are important components of an alarm and rapid response system
and allow
the timely warning of the population living in the downstream valley (water alarm),
to operate safety devices such as valves in penstocks, and
to shut down the turbines and generators etc.
Despite the fact that it may take some time to safely close valves and to shut down turbines without
causing large dynamic effects in the pressure system, the consequences of earthquake damage to
these devices would be greatly reduced.
Therefore, today, strong motion instruments and a rapid alarm system should belong to the standard
instruments for the safety monitoring of large dams. To complement the standard static instruments with
dynamic strong motion instruments allows the comprehensive monitoring of a dam under the whole
spectrum of actions affecting the safety of a dam. In view of the large damage potential of most large
dams, it is in the interest of the dam owners, the dam safety agencies and in particular of the people
affected by a possible dam incident to reduce the earthquake risk of a dam as far as possible.
As the prediction of the time, location and magnitude of strong earthquakes, which may affect the
safety of a dam, will not be possible in the foreseeable future, the aspect of pre-warning of the population
living downstream of a dam is an important issue.
In addition, todays strong motion instruments have a large dynamic range, i.e. they can be used for
recording small and high amplitude vibrations ranging from a few micro gs to over ten g (acceleration due
to gravity: g = 9.81 m/s2). The records of continuous monitoring of small amplitude vibrations of a dam
caused by ground motions, wind, water waves in the reservoir, operation of equipment in the dam etc.
can be used for the health monitoring of the dam and for the calibration of numerical dam models. Real
time health monitoring on the basis of monitoring changes in the fundamental frequencies of the dam,
can easily be implemented in these instruments.
Moreover, the data collected from strong motion instruments can be used
to check and to improve the seismic design criteria of the dam, and
to locate micro-earthquakes in the vicinity of the dam.
Because of these unique features and advantages, it is highly recommended to install strong motion
instruments in all large dams, which are already equipped with pendulums for deflection measurement.
Three instruments would be the absolute minimum for a large dam as it has to be assumed based on the
past experience that one or the other instrument may not be working properly at the time of a strong
earthquake due to maintenance problems as experienced in the past.
11. Conclusions
The field of earthquake engineering of large dams is still a relatively young discipline with limited
observational data. Information is mainly needed on the behaviour of dams subjected to very strong
ground shaking, which cannot be predicted reliably with the present computer simulations. It has to be
expected that after each strong earthquake, new phenomena are likely to emerge, which may require
modifications of the current seismic design criteria for dams.
It has to be realized that many of the large dams planned in Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, Pakistan,
India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and the Southwest of China etc. are located in zones of relatively high
seismicity. Thus it can be expected that the seismic action will become the governing load case for
many new dams. Moreover, the requirement that dams have to be able to resist the ground shaking of
the MCE, will lead to greater importance of the seismic load case even for regions of low to moderate
We must also recognize that dams, which can resist strong earthquakes, are also stronger dams
that will perform very well under other types of action and hazards.
1) ICOLD Bulletin 52 (1986), Earthquake Analysis Procedures for Dams State of the Art, ICOLD,
2) ICOLD Bulletin 72 (1989): Selecting Seismic Parameters for Large Dams, Guidelines, Committee
on Seismic Aspects of Dam Design, ICOLD, Paris

3) ICOLD Bulletin 112 (1998): Neotectonics and dams, Committee on Seismic Aspects of Dam
Design, ICOLD, Paris
4) Bulletin 113 (1999): Seismic observation of dams, Committee on Seismic Aspects of Dam Design,
ICOLD, Paris
5) ICOLD Bulletin 120 (2001): Design features of dams to effectively resist seismic ground motion,
Committee on Seismic Aspects of Dam Design, ICOLD, Paris
6) ICOLD Bulletin 123 (2002): Earthquake design and evaluation of structures appurtenant to dams,
Committee on Seismic Aspects of Dam Design, ICOLD, Paris
7) World Commission on Dams (2000): Dams and Development: A new framework for decisionmaking, Earthscan Publications Ltd., London and Sterling, VA

Fig. 1: Cracks in downstream (left) and upstream faces (right) of two damaged embankment dams, 2001
Bhuj earthquake (Courtesy Prof. S. K. Jain)

Fig. 2: Usoi landslide dam and Lake Sarez formed by 1911 earthquake in Tajikistan (dam height ca. 650
m; freeboard ca. 50 m; dam volume ca. 2 billion m3, worlds largest dam) (Courtesy J. Hanisch)

Fig. 3: Lower Van Norman Dam, a 38 m high hydraulic fill dam, experienced widespread liquefaction and
major slope failures during the 1971 San Fernando earthquake, California (Courtesy Steinbrugge
Collection, Earthquake Engineering Research Center, University of California, Berkeley)

Fig. 4: Crack at upstream face of Sefid Rud buttress dam (left) and cracks in dam crest caused by the
1990 Manjil earthquake, Iran (Photos M. Wieland)

Fig. 5: Local damage of Shih-Kang weir due to large fault movement near right abutment, 1999 Chi-Chi
earthquake, Taiwan (Courtesy C. K. Yeh)