Archive for October, 2016

Working in the USA for 6 months as a visiting researcher

By Alexandra Tsioulou, on 24 October 2016

I am a third year PhD student in the IRDR and the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering at UCL. My research focuses on the use of simulated ground motions in catastrophe risk engineering. Earlier this year, I travelled to the USA to work as a visiting PhD student for 6 months at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. I worked with Prof. Alexandros Taflanidis from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences to develop simulated ground motion models that are compatible with the expected seismic hazard, particularly in the region of the western USA.

Farewell dinner in July with my officemates. I am on the bottom left side.

Dinner with my officemates. I am on the bottom left.

I was part of the High Performance System Analysis and Design lab and was based in a well-equipped office with other PhD students. I had a big desk and two computer screens that was really convenient. The atmosphere in the room was very different to the big open plan office I sit in at UCL, it is very quiet and there is little interaction between the students. However, they take lunch breaks together and I was often invited to join them. On the weekends, we sometimes got together for dinner or drinks and they were very keen to show me what the city has to offer. They were all very friendly and made me part of their group.

The biggest challenge for me was the cold weather and snow; in the winter it can get down to -30° C, although everybody said I was really lucky last year as it only got down to around -10° C! The campus was very beautiful covered in snow but the commute in this cold weather was not very easy.

Grove of trees.

Grove of trees in South Bend.

Another challenge I faced was the poor public transportation system; there were very few buses and they didn’t go everywhere in the city, so I had to rely on a shuttle service to commute in the winter. The commute was short; in London it takes me half hour to get to UCL from home by tube, whereas there it took about 10 minutes by bus. After spring when temperature went up, I could also walk to university through wonderful scenery including a grove of tall trees and a beautiful lake, which took about 40 minutes. I felt very grateful to have those views and connect with nature every day on my way home.

 

St. Mary's Lake.

St. Mary’s Lake

While there, I attended the Probabilistic Mechanics Conference held in Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a three-day conference and there were a lot of interesting sessions. This conference mainly attracts researchers from US universities, but there were a few people from universities outside the US, mainly Europe and Asia. I presented a part of the work I have done at UCL and had the chance to see and catch up with some old friends.

Overall, that was a great experience and I certainly encourage other PhD students to take any opportunities to spend some time abroad as visiting researchers if they have this option. Lastly, I would like to thank IRDR for providing me financial support for this research trip.

Five members of the IRDR visit Amatrice as part of the EEFIT mission

By Zoe Mildon, on 21 October 2016

View along the main street of Amatrice

View along the main street of Amatrice

Six weeks after the earthquake that struck Amatrice, central Italy, EEFIT (Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team) deployed a team to the region to investigate the damages. The team involved five members of the IRDR; Prof. David Alexander, Dr Joanna Faure Walker, Dr Carmine Galasso and PhD students Zoe Mildon and Serena Tagliacozzo.

Zoe taking measurements along the surface rupture, Mt Vettore

Zoe measuring the surface rupture

Joanna and Zoe’s main aim of the trip was to map the surface ruptures from the earthquake. Slip at depth along the fault plane that generated the earthquake came to the surface, and could be seen as offset soils and open cracks along the slope of Mt Vettore. By measuring the orientation and offset of the rupture, they hope to gain a better understanding of the earthquake process. In addition, they worked together with Domenico Lombardi (Uni. Manchester) to look at the environmental effects of the earthquake, such as landslides, rock falls and ground cracks. They were using the Environmental Seismic Intensity Scale (ESI 2007) which aims to provide a measure of the intensity of shaking during an earthquake, similar to the Modified Mercalli Scale, but from only considering effects to the environment.

Carmine’s primary interest was to investigate strong ground motion signals recorded at various seismic stations around the epicentral area. Areas of particular interest included the three stations closest to the earthquake that recorded the highest PGA (Peak Ground Acceleration). One of these was close to the Umbrian town of Norcia that recorded among the highest ground motion measurement, yet the town was relatively undamaged. Three stations ~50km north-west of the epicentre also recorded unusually strong ground motions and these were visited as well to determine if there were any site specific effects that may explain these high measurements. He also worked with other members of the EEFIT team to do rapid surveys of building damage.

Interview for Italian news, Carmine is front left.

Interview for Italian news, Carmine is on the left of the reporter, Serena is to the right

David and Serena were interested in investigating the social effects of the disaster and how local communities were responding to it. They started by interviewing relief workers from various agencies, including the Civil Protection and Red Cross (Croce Rossa). They also visited L’Aquila, 40km to the south-east of the Amatrice epicentral area, as the city experienced a similar magnitude earthquake in 2009 and they were interested in the progress of reconstruction and the availability of the services to displaced communities.

All members also visited the town of Amatrice and surrounding villages to observe the damage. We would like to thank the Civil Protection Authorities and Vigil del Fuoco for their help and assistance during this trip.

Further detail about other members of the EEFIT trip and activities can be found at the mission blog. An EEFIT report will be released in the near future and there will be a presentation organised for late November to present the initial findings.