The Best Collection of Engineering Disaster Photos You've Ever Seen

Giant structures reduced to rubble by disaster? You can't look away. Two engineering professors have created a great archive of disaster photos, along with lessons about what went wrong - and how to get it right next time.

Created by civil engineering professors Ross Boulanger of UC Davis and James Michael Duncan of University of Maryland, the Geo Photo Album is full of mega-disasters coupled with precise explanations of why buildings have topped or dams have burst. Essentially, you can read the album as a compendium of engineering disasters.


But it is also a compendium of engineering fixes - at least half the site is devoted to images of properly-conceived dams, gas storage tanks, and foundations, that are likely to remain standing in the event of disaster. Check out a few of the images here, along with Boulanger and Duncan's engineering insights. If you need more (and of course you will), you can go to the Geo Photo Album.

Say Boulanger and Duncan about this 1999 earthquake damage in Turkey:

The mat foundation for this building was exposed when it overturned. This building has a relatively large height-to-width ratio, making it more susceptible to overturning failure.

Here's another shot of the 1999 Turkey quake damage. Boulanger writes:

While these buildings are now partly submerged, the collapse of the one building and the near collapse of the other building are illustrative of structural performance throughout Golcuk, and are mainly attributed to the effects of shaking.


The researchers write:

This building hangs over the head scarp of a landslide in decomposed bedrock that was triggered by the 1995 Kobe earthquake. Several homes were buried and over 30 people killed by the landslide.


Here is a picture of a port damaged by the same Kobe earthquake. Says Boulanger:

This car ramp at a ferry terminal collapsed when the fill materials liquefied and the quay wall displaced outwards. The graben behind the quay walls is filled with water.


This is a massive sinkhole that was created when a gypsum stack collapsed in Florida. Gypsum stacks are byproducts of phosphate mining processes. Say the researchers:

This massive sinkhole formed on top of a gypsum stack in Florida, and contributed to contamination of the aquifer below. Grouting work by Hayward Baker to seal the aquifer from the gypsum stack was recognized with a national award.


And here's one possible solution to bad engineering. Here you can see a picture from a project to make the Port of Oakland less likely to fall apart in an earthquake. Boulanger explains:

The grid of soil-cement columns is exposed at this location. The piles within the grid will support a wharf that is being constructed. The grid of soil-cement walls extends down through soft soils into harder, competent soils, and acts to increase the stability of the channel slope.


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