Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 23–32

Soil and sediment quality and composition as factors in the distribution of damage at the December 26, 2003, Bam area earthquake in SE Iran (Ms = 6.6)


    • Department of GeologyLMU University
    • Department of GeologyTarbiat Moallem University
  • Bernard Guest
    • Department of GeologyLMU University
  • Anke Friedrich
    • Department of GeologyLMU University
  • Farajollah Fayazi
    • Department of GeologyTarbiat Moallem University
  • Mohamad Nakhaei
    • Department of GeologyTarbiat Moallem University
  • Seyed Mahmoud Fatemi Aghda
    • Department of GeologyTarbiat Moallem University
    • Seismology SectionBuilding and Housing Research Center (BHRC)
  • Ali Beitollahi
    • Seismology SectionBuilding and Housing Research Center (BHRC)

DOI: 10.1007/s11368-008-0046-9

Cite this article as:
Rezaei, K., Guest, B., Friedrich, A. et al. J Soils Sediments (2009) 9: 23. doi:10.1007/s11368-008-0046-9


Background, aim, and scope

The rapid growth of the world’s population over the past few decades has led to a concentration of people, buildings, and infrastructure in urban areas. The tendency of urban areas to develop in sedimentary valleys has increased their vulnerability to earthquakes due to the presence of soft soil and sediment. Several earthquakes have clearly demonstrated that local soil and sediment conditions can have a significant influence on earthquake-induced ground motion and damage pattern, respectively. Many studies confirm the relationship between site effect and ground motion (Borcherdt in Bull Seismol Soc Am 60:29–61, 1970; Bouckovalas et al. in Geotech Geolog Eng (Historical Archive) 14(2):111–128, 1996; Fäh et al. in Seismology 1:87–10, 1997; Atakan et al. in Nat Hazards 15(2–3):139–164, 1997; Christaras et al. in Geodynamics 26(2–4):393–411, 1998; Raptakis et al. in Bull Earthquake Eng 2(3):285–301, 2004a; Raptakis et al. in Soil Dyn Earthq Eng 25:871–887, 2005; Marka et al. in Pure Appl Geophys 158:2349–2367, 2001; Marka et al. in Soil Dyn Earthq Eng 25(4):303–315, 2005; Importa et al. in Seismology 9(2):191–210, 2005; Tyagunov et al. in Nat Hazards 38:199–214, 2006; Lombardo et al. in Nat Hazards 38:339–354, 2006; Rayhani et al. in Geotech Geol Eng 21(1):91–100, 2008). In order to classify the suitability of the soil and subsurface sediment units for urban planning and compare their mechanical behavior with the non-uniform damage observed in the 2003 earthquake, we performed some geotechnical and geophysical analyses of soil and sediment samples collected from different locations in Bam City.


Geophysical and geotechnical properties, such as grain size distribution, sorting, plasticity, Poison’s ratio, shear strength, compression index, permeability, and P and S wave velocities in soil and subsurface sediments, were measured. Maps (in GIS environment) and cross-sections were prepared for the study area.


According to our observations, a great number of buildings were damaged in areas of the city where silty and clayey soils dominate, presenting very low permeability, low wave velocity together with high plasticity, and compressibility. In the study area, we recognized eight sediment types. Shear wave propagation velocities allowed for the identification of four seismic layers referred to as the surface layer, second layer, and third layer and seismic bedrock. We found that the damages observed in the Bam area were related to the physical and mechanical properties of the soil and subsurface sediment units. We also found that the soil thickness that was estimated by geophysical surveying shows a direct relationship with damage rate observations. Furthermore, we observed that landslide and qanat collapses have occurred in some areas where sand and silty sand soils and subsurface sediments dominate.


The distribution of the damage shows a microzonation that is very serious in some points in the city along the main fault, especially where it is located on thick, fine, medium, and loose soil and sediments. In general, there is a discernable west to east increase in the damage across the city. The average level of destruction for the entire city was ~75%, while the eastern part of the city locally reached 100% destruction level. The major factors that influenced the damage and destruction in the Bam region were the distance of a given site from the seismic source, the quality of foundation soil and subsurface sediment, and the type of building. The Bam earthquake occurred on a single fault network comprising the Bam and Arg-e-Bam faults (Funning et al. in J Geophys Res 100(B09406):1–23, 2005). The sediments and soil of the area (unconsolidated silty sand and sandy gravel) belong to braided fluvial and alluvial facies. Most of the buildings near the epicenter area were old and constructed of mud bricks using mud cement.

Recommendations and perspectives

A combined sedimentological, geological, neotectonic, geotechnical, paleoseismological, and geophysical investigation in urban areas (especially in alluvial valleys) will give the detailed knowledge of the subsurface structure required for the accurate and precise seismic hazard assessments needed for effective earthquake protection planning. This paper shows that for the Bam situation, sedimentological data are required to provide an interpretive context for the geophysical data.


BamEarthquakeGround motionIranSedimentSite effectSoil

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© Springer-Verlag 2008