Faculty of Engineering

Liquefaction - what happens below the surface?

This research project investigates liquefaction-induced ground displacements using smart particles to better understand the development of liquefaction.

While the manifestations of liquefaction, ie, sand boils and lateral movements, can be directly observed on the ground surface, not much is known on the mechanism of subsurface ground deformation simply because the deformations are hidden.

Key focus areas/issues

The recent Canterbury earthquakes have shown that liquefaction, and the associated ground deformations, are major geotechnical hazards. Liquefaction has resulted in ground settlements and lateral spreading, extensive damage to residential houses, buried pipelines, and other infrastructure.

This research will lead to a better understanding of the development of liquefaction and

  • Better assessment of the effects of liquefaction on underground structures.
  • The ability to predict lateral spreading at the ground surface.
  • Improved mitigation methods for buildings and underground structures.

Current major developments

We are in the process of developing a smart particle, which is a 35mm-long electrical device consisting of sensors and has its own power source and wireless capabilities. For testing purposes, it is encased in a rectangular-shaped casing but varying shapes can be used for future applications.

The idea of the smart particle takes a similar approach to that of the smart pebble used to monitor riverbed sediment flow. The smart particle being tested is a first generation device that consists of a 3-axis accelerometer to record time histories of acceleration in three orthogonal axes. It has the capability of generating data that on analysis yields the position of the particle as a function of time.


In parallel, we have developed a laminar box which when placed on top of the shaking table can investigate the response of model grounds during seismic excitation. The box, the first of its kind in New Zealand, allows a high level of shear deformation within the soil deposit and therefore provides a more realistic determination of the seismic response of the soil. Preliminary tests have been conducted by preparing dry sand deposit inside the laminar box and subjecting it to different earthquake motions. Accelerations activated within the deposit at different depths were measured using smart particles. From the results, a numerical model was developed which can be used to simulate the response of dry sand.

Future tests would involve water-resistant smart particles in a saturated sandy deposit which can undergo liquefaction-induced deformations.


Key achievements

Winner, 2012 New Zealand Geotechnical Society (NZGS) Student Award
"A numerical and experimental study of seismic SSI using a laminar box on a shake table" by Xiaoyang Qin and Wai Man Cheung.


Key people


Rolando Orense
Email: r.orense@auckland.ac.nz
Phone: +64 9 373 7599 ext 88437



Related publications

Akeila, E. Salcic, Z., and Swain, A., 2010. Smart pebble for monitoring river-bed sediment transport. Sensors Journal, IEEE, vol. 10, pp 1705-1717.

Akeila, E., Salcic, Z., Kularatna, N., Melville, B. and Dwivedi, A., 2007. Testing and calibration of smart pebble for river bed sediment transport monitoring. Proceedings of IEEE Sensors, art. no. 4388624, pp. 1201-1204.

Akeila, E. Salcic, Z., and Swain, A., 2010. A Self-resetting Method for Reducing Error Accumulation in INS-based Tracking. Position Location and Navigation Symposium (PLANS), IEEE.

Chouw, N. 2012. Observations of soil effect on the response of adjacent structures in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake: Invited lecture. International Conference on Earthquake Geotechnical Engineering, From Case History to Practice, Aswan, Egypt.

Cubrinovski, M., Robinson, K., Taylor, M., Hughes, M., & Orense, R. 2012. Lateral spreading and its impacts in urban areas in the 2010-2011 Christchurch earthquakes. New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics, 55 (3), 255-269. doi:10.1080/00288306.2012.699895

Davies, MCR, Pender, MJ, Orense, RP, Wotherspoon, L., Cubrinovski, M., Bowman, ET. 2011. Geotechnical implications of the M 7.1 And M 6.3 Canterbury Earthquakes off 4 September 2010 And 22 February 2011: Keynote Lecture. Geotechnical Engineering for Disaster Mitigation and Rehabilitation and Highway Engineering 2011, Semarang, Indonesia.

Orense, R. Larkin, T., Chouw, N. 2011. Bridge performance during the 2010/2011 Canterbury earthquakes. Australian Earthquake Engineering Society Annual Conference, Barossa Valley, South Australia.

Orense, R. P., Pender, M., & Wotherspoon, L. W. 2012. Analysis of soil liquefaction during the recent Canterbury (New Zealand) earthquakes. Geotechnical Engineering Journal of the SEAGS & AGSSEA, 43 (2), 8-17.

Orense, R. P., Yamada, S., & Otsubo, M. 2012. Soil liquefaction in Tokyo Bay Area due to the 2011 Tohoku (Japan) Earthquake. New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering Bulletin, 45 (1), 15-22.

Pender, M. J., Wotherspoon, L. M., Cubrinovski, M., Bowman, E., & Orense, R. P. 2012. Evidence of earthquake-induced liquefaction obtained from GeoEye-1 images. Geotechnique Letters, 2 (April-June), 49-53. doi:10.1680/geolett.11.00042

Robinson, K. Cubrinovski, M.; Kailey, P.; Orense, R. 2011. Field measurements of lateral spreading following the 2010 Darfield Earthquake. Proc. 9th Pacific Conference on Earthquake Engineering, Auckland, Paper 052.

Wotherspoon, L. M., Pender, M. J., & Orense, R. P. 2012. Relationship between observed liquefaction at Kaiapoi following the 2010 Darfield earthquake and former channels of the Waimakariri River. Engineering Geology, 125, 45-55. doi:10.1016/j.enggeo.2011.11.001.