What Is Liquefaction?

Liquefaction is a term that refers to soil instability.

Understanding Liquefaction

Liquefaction is the loss of stability and strength in water-saturated soil due to violent ground movements caused by earthquakes or construction blasts, as well as other kinds of explosions. This term is commonly seen in the insurance industries, as liquefaction can cause major damages when the soil suffering from it supports a structure like a building. Once the soil suffers from liquefaction, it will be unable to support the weight of the structure, the structure or building will experience severe damage, and will in some cases will be completely destroyed. In some situations, like an earthquake, the building may be structurally sound enough to withstand the actual seismic activity of the earthquake, but then later be destroyed by liquefaction. Liquefaction hazards must be disclosed when real estate property is sold to make the buyer aware of one of the risks of ownership.

In addition to buildings, liquefaction can ruin roads, railways, airport runways, dams and anything else that sits on the ground. It can also cause damage to below-ground utilities. Liquefaction can cause landslides, settlements, and eruptions of mud or water from the ground. Certain soil types, the depth of the groundwater and a higher probability of earthquakes can make specific locales more vulnerable to liquefaction, as can locations near rivers, streams, and lakes. For example, there are certain areas of Utah that run a high risk of liquefaction due to the sandy soil easily saturated by shallow groundwater, along with a risk of moderate to severe earthquakes.

How to Properly Handle Property Liquefaction

If you are worried your property or investments are vulnerable to damage from liquefaction, there are steps one can take to find out what kind of risk your investments are exposed to. If a building already exists, there are ways to improve soil stability through drainage and compaction. If it is a new building or project, in addition to drainage and compaction, thorough and careful design of new foundations can reduce how susceptible they are to property damage caused by liquefaction.

If your area is known to be susceptible to liquefaction, it is important to examine specialized maps created by specialists and geologists that show the probability of liquefaction in your area. Liquefaction hazard and liquefaction susceptibility maps are available to the public for free from the United States Geological Survey. These maps provide a general overview of liquefaction risk in an area and should be consulted in order to avoid any potential risk of liquefaction.