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The impact of rockfalls on dwellings during the 2011 Christchurch, New Zealand, earthquakes


Rockfalls and debris avalanches triggered by earthquakes during the 2010–2011 Canterbury earthquake sequence killed five people and caused an estimated US$400 million in damages. In total, about 200 dwellings were directly impacted by some of the ~6000 rockfalls and debris avalanches that occurred across the Port Hills of Christchurch. This research presents the results of the analysis of a high-quality database of 61 individual rockfall impacts on 29 dwellings in the Port Hills of Christchurch, New Zealand. Dwellings in the Port Hills are typically simple timber-frame structures with wooden or unreinforced masonry cladding, comparable to most dwellings across New Zealand, North America, Australia, and elsewhere. Rockfall impacts on dwellings in this study were observed to follow a power law relationship between kinetic energy and (1) the runout distance into and through the dwelling and (2) the impacted area within the dwelling. The results have been quantified and are presented as a damage proportion, which is defined as the proportion of the area affected by an individual rock block inside the dwelling divided by the total area of the dwelling. These data provide a fundamental input for rockfall risk analysis and will allow the losses from rockfall impacts to be better constrained.

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Financial support for this research was provided by the U.S. National Science Foundation under grants nos. 1439773 and 1439883. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. The authors also acknowledge the support of Leica Geosystems, David Evans and Associates, and Maptek I-Site in providing equipment and software used in this study. Lisa Dunham (UW) and Patrick Burns (OSU) assisted with the field effort. Catherine Burchard (OSU) and Jenny DiGiulio (OSU) assisted with processing the terrestrial LiDAR datasets. David Hanson (UW) and John Henderson assisted with processing the visual images. C. Massey’s research was supported by the Natural Hazards Research Platform (New Zealand), Landslide Hazards Programme.

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Correspondence to A. Grant.

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Grant, A., Wartman, J., Massey, C. et al. The impact of rockfalls on dwellings during the 2011 Christchurch, New Zealand, earthquakes. Landslides 15, 31–42 (2018).

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  • Rockfall
  • Risk assessment
  • Damage proportion
  • Loss models
  • Canterbury earthquake sequence
  • Structural damage