Skyscrapers and seismology

A geologist in Taipei has theorized that the increase in earthquake activity in the Taipei basin has been caused by the construction of the world’s tallest building, Taipei 101.

Lin Cheng-horng, a geologist at the Institute of Earth Sciences at Taiwan’s most prestigious think tank, the Academia Sinica, said seismic activity historically had been low in the Taipei basin, home to about 7 million people.

But the city has experienced more micro-earthquakes (of magnitude 2.0-2.5 on the Richter scale) since construction began on the 508 meter (1,667 foot) skyscraper in 1997, he said.


Lin said Taipei 101 weighed 700,000 tons and estimated stress from vertical loading on its foundation at 4.7 bars, of which some would be transferred to the earth’s upper crust due to extremely soft sedimentary rocks beneath the Taipei basin.

“If a fault is about to crack, then a little pressure can trigger an earthquake. It’s like the last straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Lin told Reuters in a telephone interview.

But that’s only a theory, he said, adding that he could not determine whether or not Taipei 101 was responsible for the rise in seismic activity in the area in recent years.

“I don’t know if it’s just coincidence or if they are related,” he said. “It’s very hard to prove this scientifically, but it’s just as hard to disprove it.”

Thus, Lin is calling for immediate research into the issue, saying it could have far-reaching implications for other huge structures like the proposed 1,000 meter (3,281 foot) Sky City 1000 in Japan, another quake-prone area.

Somehow it never occurred to me that skyscrapers could cause seismic activity, but the idea makes sense. If it’s true, it’s just another example of how we can unwittingly affect our environment…