Characterisation of ground conditions in the Christchurch central business district

M. L. Taylor, M. Cubrinovski and B. A. Bradley

The magnitude Mw 6.2 earthquake of February 22nd 2011 that struck beneath the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, caused widespread damage and was particularly destructive to the Central Business District (CBD). The shaking caused major damage, including collapses of structures, and initiated ground failure in the form of soil liquefaction and consequent effects such as sand boils, surface flooding, large differential settlements of buildings and lateral spreading of ground towards rivers were observed. A research project underway at the University of Canterbury to characterise the engineering behaviour of the soils in the region was influenced by this event to focus on the performance of the highly variable ground conditions in the CBD. This paper outlines the methodology of this research to characterise the key soil horizons that underlie the CBD that influenced the performance of important structures during the recent earthquakes, and will influence the performance of the rebuilt city centre under future events. The methodology follows post-earthquake reconnaissance in the central city, a desk study on ground conditions, site selection, mobilisation of a post-earthquake ground investigation incorporating the cone penetration test (CPT), borehole drilling, shear wave velocity profiling and Gel-push sampling followed by a programme of laboratory testing including monotonic and cyclic testing of the soils obtained in the investigation. The research is timely and aims to inform the impending rebuild, with appropriate information on the soils response to dynamic loading, and the influence this has on the performance of structures with various foundation forms.