Earth-shaking research

August 16, 2002

A team of Greek engineers has produced a computer model that could help prevent ancient monuments becoming victims of earthquakes.

The research has emphasised the unpredictable nature of a particular tremor on a particular type of classical column. But it has also demonstrated the reliability of computer models in tailoring restoration projects to give the monuments the best possible protection from destruction.

To test their model, Ioannis Psycharis, assistant professor of earthquake engineering at the National Technical University of Athens, and colleagues, subjected a free-standing classical column to a series of controlled tremors.

The one-in-three scale structure was based on a column of the Parthenon and was made from marble quarried from the same source, Mount Pentelicon.

The team analysed how tremors delivered on a shaking table facility in the university's earthquake engineering laboratory caused the 12 drums of stone that made up the column to rock.

They found that the column could respond in very different ways to a trivial change in the motion of the tremor or the position of the drums. Apparently identical experiments could produce radically different results.

Dr Psycharis said: "One should be extremely careful in using the numerical results and should impose large factors of safety in applying these results to real structures."

Nevertheless, the models could still prove useful in projects to restore or consolidate remains.

One proposal would see titanium dowels inserted into the columns of the Parthenon to prevent the drums from sliding during tremors.

But the reinforcement could also make the structure more prone to collapse in some high-intensity earthquakes, as the drums would be unable to absorb energy by sliding.

In the case of the Parthenon, the model showed that such an effect was highly unlikely to occur. In other cases, however, the opposite might be true.

The findings are published in the journal Earthquake Engineering and Structural Dynamics .

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