Bulletin of Earthquake Engineering

, Volume 8, Issue 6, pp 1569–1601 | Cite as

Reconnaissance report and preliminary ground motion simulation of the 12 May 2008 Wenchuan earthquake

  • Louise Wedderkopp Bjerrum
  • Kuvvet Atakan
  • Mathilde Bøttger Sørensen
Open Access
Original Research Paper


The M w = 8.0 Wenchuan earthquake of May 12, 2008, caused destruction over a wide area. The earthquake cost more than 69,000 lives and the damage is reported to have left more than 5 million people homeless. It is estimated that 5.36 million buildings were destroyed and 21 million buildings were damaged in Sichuan and the nearby provinces. Economic losses due to the event are estimated to be 124 billion USD. From a field reconnaissance trip conducted in October 2008, it is evident that the combination of several factors, including mountainous landscape, strong ground shaking, extensive landslides and rock-falls, has exacerbated the human and economic consequences of this earthquake. Extensive damage occurred over a wide area due to the shear size of the earthquake rupture combined with poor quality building construction. In order to investigate the ground shaking during the earthquake, we have conducted a strong ground motion simulation study, applying a hybrid broadband frequency technique. The preliminary results show large spatial variation in the ground shaking, with the strongest ground motions along the fault plane. The simulation results have been calibrated against the recorded ground motion from several near-field stations in the area, and acceleration values of the order of 1 g are obtained, similar to what was recorded during the event. Comparison with the damage distribution observed in the field confirms that the effect of fault rupture complexity on the resulting ground motion distribution also controls to a large extent the damage distribution. The applied simulation technique provides a promising platform for predictive studies.


Damage distribution Field reconnaissance Ground motion simulation Wenchuan earthquake 



We would like to thank the Earthquake Administration of Sichuan Province, Sichuan Provincial Department of Construction and Sichuan Association for Science & Technology who co-sponsored the field trip to the Wenchuan Earthquake Area for the 14th World Conference on Earthquake Engineering. We are grateful to the staff of China Earthquake Administration, Earthquake Administration of Sichuan Province, China Southwest Architectural Design and Institute Corp. Ltd., Sichuan Provincial Institute of Architectural Design, Sichuan Association for Science and Technology, Sichuan Provincial People’s Hospital and the translators who made this trip possible. We would also like to thank PhD Moh Huang for locations of the stations Wolong, Baijiao and Qingping, used in the ground motion simulations. We are grateful to Nelson Pulido for comments on the engineering aspects of this study and Susanne Sargeant for proof reading and thoughtful comments. Finally, we appreciate the comments from the two anonymous reviewers.

Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Louise Wedderkopp Bjerrum
    • 1
  • Kuvvet Atakan
    • 1
  • Mathilde Bøttger Sørensen
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Earth ScienceUniversity of BergenBergenNorway
  2. 2.Helmholtz Centre Potsdam, GFZ German Reserch Centre for GeosciencesPotsdamGermany

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