After an early 6:25 am flight from Beijing to Chengdu and a delicious lunch in our hotel, our group walked next door to the SKLGP Laboratory in Chengdu Institute of Technology’s campus. This lab is one of the key research facilities for geohazad prevention and geoenvironment protection in China. What does that mean you ask? It means they have a bunch of cool machines and sensors used to recreate different landslide scenarios, test rock and structure strength, and monitor slopes in real time to name a few.
While on the tour, we were able to stand in the centrifuge room which is used to create extreme force on a pre-formed slope model. The test itself can take only minutes, but to perfect the sensor location and slope model itself can take many months.
Machinery used to mimic earthquake forces on slope models
These models used for the centrifugal test are scaled down, but to fully understand large scale soil flow, researchers at SKLGP can utilize the Laboratory for Large Debris Flow. This space looked like a geotechnical engineer’s dream with space for modeling, testing, and lots and lots of soil. We got to see a few soil saturation experiments in progress and the location for a new shake table just outside the building.
To wrap up the tour, some of the researchers showed us their UAV technologies, and allowed us to play with their VR system. Both of these tools are great examples of the bright future of research in China.
On Tuesday morning, we went to the Dujiangyan Irrigation System. While the site is commonly visited by tourists for the scenery and gardens, we, as engineers, were able to appreciate the site from a different perspective. Built during the Qin dynasty around 256 BC, the system has continued to demonstrate sustainability and resiliency, as the system has undergone minimal changes and retrofitting throughout its long lifetime. During the visit, we were able to see two of the three main constructions of the irrigation head: the Yuzui and Baopingkou. The Yuzui works to control the water flows of the inner and outer rivers to prevent flooding; as we visited during the dry season, we saw that the Yuzui diverted minimal water to the outer river.
The Baopingkou works to control sediment flow and to divert any excess water before water distribution. As it was the dry season, no water was being diverted. As geotechnical engineers, it was remarkable to see the amount of the mass carved out from the mountains to create the Baopingkou given the lack of tunneling technologies during construction time.
Lastly, when studying the irrigation system in class, we learned that the irrigation system’s resiliency and sustainability are not only attributed to the construction, but also to the maintenance system. The irrigation system is maintained not only on a government level, but also on a city, town, and individual level, which we were able to observe during our visit from maintenance performance on the local level.
On March 20th and 21st, we drove from the Chengdu University of Technology in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China through the Qionglai Mountains to explore key locations affected by the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake. As we drove towards the epicenter, I noticed the near vertical slopes along the roads. These steep soil slopes were cut to place roads and build terraces on which to place buildings and plant crops. To stabilize and protect the slopes, cast-in-place, lattice-like concrete structures were built. This method of stabilization is easily constructed with basic molds, cement and water, therefore it is suited for this geography, where there is limited vehicle access. Different lattice geometries such as rectangles and diamonds are used. The examples below are from the side of the highway near the Wenchuan Earthquake epicenter and the Wenjia Gully.
On March 23rd, we drove along the coast line of the Miyagi Prefecture near Sendai, Japan to visit key infrastructure damaged by the tsunami induced by the Tohoku earthquake in 2011. The interesting slope structures I noticed were the articulated concrete mat slope protection systems. These heavy duty and extremely resilient systems are used to protect slopes from erosion and scour caused by high velocity flows and are common for coastal regions. The example below is the channel below the Shida Bridge.
On day 6 (Wednesday) we had the privilege to visit the Wenjia Gully which is located a couple hours outside of Chendgu. This gully is home millions of cubic meters of land/rock debris that is being fed from loose debris from 3 higher branches. All of this debris became loose during the the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. During the wet season, this material causes devastating land debris flows that have impacted the surrounding community. To mitigate this risk, 5 separate check dams have been designed and installed to stop the flow and allow for it to be safely manually removed from behind the dams.
Matching SUV fleet that took us all over the mountains
To visit we were provided a fleet of 6 SUVs from Chengdu University of Electronic Science and Technology of China. Our drivers were able to drive us to the highest, and in my person opinion coolest, dam known as dam #5. As you can see in the photos below, it is massive, raw, innovative, and way up in the gully. This is such a significant check dam because it has grates in locations to drain the water out of the debris. The water is drained from the debris flow and sent to the bottom of the mountain through a tunnel that leads to the other side of the mountain.. Taking out the water factor makes the mass of material much less likely to continue down the gully.
Grates for water to drain out of the debris flowConnection point of the draining grates (right) and the tunnel (left) leading to the other side of the mountain
Check Dam #5 (Fernando is sitting on the lower culvert 6th from the right for size perspective)
From what we learned this system has been very successful and it was so cool to explore a beautiful piece of civil engineering up in rural Chinese mountains!
Among the food enthusiasts, Beijing is most well known for its crispy fruit-wood-roasted duck skin, paper-thin slices of baby lamb in a hotpot, and sweet and spicy whole deep-fried yellow fish among various other dishes. We stayed in Beijing for only three nights, hence the allure of Beijing's sophisticated flavors and exotic ingredients prompted us to fit the essential sights and flavors into our limited time and budget. The highlights of our food adventure included the Chongqing hot pot at a famous chain of restaurants called Haidilao and the Peking duck at Liqun, which is another restaurant popular with foreign tourists. It was interesting to watch the chef personally come to our table to carve the Peking duck in Liqun and the noodle show at Haidilao, where an energetic waiter pulled noodles right at our table.
The delicious hotpot dinner we had in Haidilao
The noodle show
Authentic technique of roasting a duck and the prepared Peking duck
After setting off from Beijing, we spent the next four days at Chengdu. Apart from being the panda hometown, Chengdu is known for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, which is one of the eight regional cuisines in China.
Grand lunch on arriving Chengdu
The range of classic Sichuanese dishes that we tried in Chengdu included the spicy Kung Pao chicken, Hongyou chaoshou (dumplings of minced pork meat), Dandan noodles, Mapo tofu, Chong Qing WanZhou (grilled fish), spicy pancakes and Fuqi Feipian (Sliced Beef Tripe in Chili Oil), among various others.
Different food items we tried at Chengdu
It was not hard for us to see why Chengdu was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2010.
In 2008, the Wenchuan Earthquake struck in the Sichuan Province of western China. The earthquake measured 7.9 - 8.0 on the Richter scale, and it is estimated to cause over 83,000 deaths across western China. Because of the earthquake, many structures were damaged or destroyed.
Collapsed Building - Old Beichuan
Sadly, the earthquake caused massive landslides in the area as well - two of which struck the town of Beichuan.
Landslide Damage in Old Beichuan
Old Beichuan Secondary School
The first landslide struck the primary school and a medical center, and the second landslide hit the secondary school. As you can see in the images below, there was almost nothing left of the middle school, and for many families under the “One Child” policy of China, they lost their only children in the disaster. I was immensely sad for the town of Beichuan, and the town’s damage was heart-breaking.
Destroyed Bridge in Old Beichuan
From a structural view of the disaster, many of the buildings saw collapse in the 1st floors due to lesser supports on the first floor. Additionally, many buildings had structural failures that resulted in total collapse or partial collapse, rendering them unable to be lived in. However, miraculously, a few buildings survived full damage and the hospital made it through the event unscathed.
Two Nearly Identical Buildings, One Survived Well, The Other Collapsed - Old Beichuan
Surviving Hospital - Old Beichuan
The citizens of Beichuan and the government of China decided to leave Beichuan and create a new city, New Beichuan as it is called, in a safer area known as Yongchang, meaning “eternal prosperity.” Old Beichuan remains as a memorial to those who died in the earthquake and landslides.
While China and Japan both have a long former history of rule under Emperors, both countries differ in their royal residences.
In China, the Forbidden City formerly housed the Emperor, the family of the Emperor, and significant members of the government from about 1420 until 1912. The Forbidden City was closed off to the general public, hence the name, and the Emperor and government elite rarely left the walls of the compound. The vastness of the city and its incredible detail struck me first. In the Forbidden City, carved animals on the buildings marked which structures were most important, and the ornate decorations and carvings within each building also denoted importance. Today, the Forbidden City is open to the public and serves as an important part of China's history, and I am glad we got the chance to see it.
Gate of Supreme Harmony - Forbidden City
Animal Figures - Forbidden City
Mountain of Accumulated Elegance - Forbidden City
In Japan, the Tokyo Imperial Palace still houses the Emperor. Today, the Emperor serves as a ceremonial figure, and the Emperor's residence remains to be in the Tokyo Imperial Palace. I accidentally wandered into the park housing the Imperial Palace and as it turns out, thousands of people flock to the palace at the end of March because the gates to the palace open to the public for everyone to see the cherry blossoms bloom in the Imperial Gardens. The Imperial Palace overall felt more like seeing the White House than seeing a historical site as the Forbidden City felt like in China.
Our travels to Japan started this past Tuesday at 5:00 am. Getting ready for our flight from Chengdu, China to Tokyo, Japan, we had high hopes to be standing on the top of Mt. Fuji 24 hours after our departure. Our more than gracious and helpful hosts were of course up again to see us off. The unwavering hospitality of Chengdu University of Technology and the State Key Laboratory for Geo-Hazard Prevention and Geo-Environmental Protection (SKLGP) was one of China’s most impressive qualities. It has become readily apparent that the Chinese culture strongly encourages respect and kindness to each other, and especially to guests. The SKLGP’s extraordinary support reflected the quick-to-help attitude of the locals we interacted with in Beijing and Chengdu. It's hard to leave when we are eating and living like kings, but I think we are all really excited for Mt. Fuji and the tsunami research in Sendai, Japan.
The Chengdu International airport was very thorough with security. By thorough, I mean, imagine going through security check three times. Before entering airport, you and your bags are scanned. Approaching customs, your bags are scanned. And finally, before entering the terminal, everything, head to toe, is scanned again. I think I provided my passport and ticket at least four times throughout process. You may think, what a nightmare, but I think I got through to the gate in same amount of time. The longest line I stood in was to get a boarding pass from the airline provider. So I got through security in the same amount of time as US TSA security, and I was checked three times. Effectiveness, efficiency, convenience, deterrence – these are all give-and-takes. I'm sure everyone will form their own opinion, but be ready if you intend to travel to China.
The first thing noticeable in Japan is that when the plane descends from blue skies, they stay blue on the ground. This was the start of our 9 hour journey to the base of Mt. Fuji. After a plane, a train, an urban stroll, a subway, a “rocket” train, a 100 meter dash to catch another local train, and a $130 taxi at midnight, and we had made it. Now for the easy part. THE CLIMB. I can’t begin to describe the mental and physical challenge of completing a six hour climb in three hours and 15 minutes in order to make sunrise by 0500. We snapped the photos to prove it, so if you've got ten minutes, hit one of us up on campus. Though Trevor Clark (our classmate and communications plan organizer) didn't come with us this trip, he has previously made his own all-day journey to the tallest point in Japan. Can't wait to see all that Japan has to offer. Spirits are high – about 12,389 feet high.
The last full day in Chengdu started following the same pattern as the previous two: breakfast at the hotel, then hitting the road. This time we all rode together in a single van. Our first destination of the day was the Dujiangyan irrigation system. Constructed around 250 BC, Dujiangyan has served continuously as a method of flood control for the plains surrounding Chengdu, and has provided water for the city itself. It functions by dividing water flowing down from the mountains into two separate channels. This replaced the old method of merely trying to dam flood waters.
Views from the bank of the ancient Dujiangyan flood control system which has operated successfully and continuously since its completion over 2,000 years ago.
A building designed in the architecture of China’s “Warring States” period stands just above the Min River in Dujiangyan. Below Right: The GT recon team standing on the bank of the Min River just north of the start of the irrigation system.
In order to increase slope stability a system of concrete blocks are anchored into the soil to protect the ancient buildings resting atop the cliffs.
A rope & wooden bridge allows for passage over the flood relief channel of the Dujiangyan irrigation system.
After visiting Dujiangyan, the GT recon team headed for our last destination of the China portion of the trip: the Chengdu Panda Sanctuary. Nestled inside of the city of Chengdu, the panda sanctuary was easily the most adorable part of our visit to China. Wild Pandas are found mostly in the Sichuan Province where we spent the latter portion of our China trip. Much of their natural habitat has been destroyed due to deforestation from farming or other land development. While there we learned that panda bear in Mandarin Chinese is dà xióng māo, which is literally translated as “big bear cat” in English.
Standing in front of the entrance to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, the recon team holds up our GT ID’s that we used to get a discounted entrance. Even Dr. Frost received a student discount!
Since the panda is an endangered species, newborns are kept in an incubator to be closely monitored.
Baby pandas at approx. 11 weeks in age.
Adolescent pandas during feeding time.
An adult panda full of energy and excitement! Note that the pandas are all kept mostly indoors during Sichuan’s hot summer months. In the wild they dwell at a much higher elevation than that of the Sichuan Basin, which tends to remain cooler throughout the year.
On the third day of travel in Chengdu, we again started our morning with a mixed Chinese-western style breakfast at the hotel. After breakfast, we were met by Dr. Zheng Da who served as a main host for the day. Unfortunately, Dr. Xu, who hosted us the previous day, was still feeling a bit under the weather due to the dinner we had all ingested the night before. We piled back into our SUVs, and headed to the first destination of the day.
We stopped first at the town of Yingxiu located within the Longmenshan Mountains. Only a few miles from the earthquake epicenter, Yingxiu was another town that sustained heavy damage from the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. Unlike Old Beichuan, Yingxiu sustained most of its damage either from the earthquake itself or later flooding, not from landslides. Yingxiu has also been partly preserved in its destroyed form and converted into a large memorial and tourist attraction. We could not help but notice how many souvenir shops and restaurants are located there. The conflicting scenery conveyed both a sense of fun to be had, and a sense of mourning. Depending on what direction you were looking in at any given time, you might see a collapsed building or a shopkeeper trying to sell knick-knacks to tourists. Everywhere there were large groups of visitors being led around by tour guides speaking loudly into megaphones.
A middle school in Yingxiu that partially collapsed during the earthquake killing 54 students and teachers. While this figure is tragic, it is still far less than the hundreds killed in the school destructions in Old Beichuan.
The site has now been memorialized with a cracked sculpture marking the date and time that the earthquake occurred: 2:28 PM, May 12, 2008.
Remnants of an old middle school building in Yingxiu.
Viewing the same building at one of the corners, it can be observed where shearing occurred as the building collapsed downward onto its ground floor.
After viewing the ruins, we hiked up above the town to an earthquake museum that details what exactly happened and how the area has since recovered.
A wall carving located in the “Memorial Hall of Wenchuan Earthquake Epicenter” that depicts Chinese soldiers and rescue workers among the ruins of Yingxiu immediately following the earthquake.
Destroyed vehicles recovered from the ruins of Yingxiu.
The Georgia Tech disaster reconnaissance team along with four of Dr. Frost’s former graduate students outside of the Yingxiu memorial museum: From top left: Kieron McCarthy, Ramiro Santana, Fangzhou “Albert” Liu, Raghav Srinath, Donald Smith. From bottom left: Tian Tau, Dr. Zheng Da, Dr. J. David Frost, Wei Wa.
After our exploration of Yingxiu and the memorial museum, we headed out to see a couple of nearby gulleys that had control systems constructed into them. One of the gulley debris flow control systems, Qipan Gulley system, had been designed by Dr. Da. At that particular site, a village and concrete factory had been completely destroyed during a year of heavy rains. The 2008 Wenchuan earthquake did not severely damage the village. However, it did loosen much of the soil deposited in the mountains above it, making the area much more susceptible to debris flows in the future. This along with the earthquake is what prompted the Sichuan Province government to seek out engineers to design systems to mitigate the effects of debris flows in mountainous areas. With the control system in place, a new village and concrete factory were rebuilt in the area.
Dr. Zheng Da, Professor of Geological Engineering Chengdu U.T. with the SKLGP Lab Group and former Georgia Tech doctoral student, standing above the debris flow channel he designed at Qipan village. The system extends far back into the gulley, and only a small portion is visible in the photo.
A view from inside of the flow control channel farther back into the gulley.
An old concrete factory building several stories tall that was completely destroyed by debris flow before the control system was put into place.
A check dam strategically placed high in the gulley to catch large course-grained soil particles while allowing water to continue flowing down the channel. As the space behind the check dams fill to capacity, they must be emptied using heavy equipment. The rocks that are removed from the gulley can then be used in creating concrete. For scale, the GT recon team is standing on the bottom wall, just below the bottom row of drainage holes on the right side.
The group stands atop a check dam viewing a scarred mountainside where soil deposits shaken loose during the earthquake were later washed downhill by heavy rains.
After completing our reconnaissance of the gulley debris flow control systems for the day, the group returned to Chengdu where we were treated to dinner by Dr. Da in a very upscale part of the city. A good comparison of the district where we ate would be the Buckhead area in Atlanta. We even got to eat at a Belgian restaurant. Fortunately, this helped our stomachs to recuperate some from the previous evening’s meal.