1st Edition

Position Paper Dam Safety and Earthquakes

Edited By CIGB ICOLD Copyright 2021

    Earthquakes have always been a significant aspect of the design and safety of dams. This position paper deals with the seismic safety of large dams, based on experiences with large earthquakes in Japan (Tohoku earthquake, 2011, Richter magnitude 9.0), in China (Wenchuan earthquake, 2008, Richter magnitude 8.0) and in Chile (Maule earthquake, 2010, Richter magnitude 8.8). It presents ways to prevent key aspects of large dam failure under severe seismic conditions with a focus on design instead of on earthquake prediction. This is done by considering the prevention of uncontrolled rapid release of water of a storage dam under full reservoir conditions in relation to expected seismic conditions.

    This position paper is composed by the Committee on Seismic Aspects of Dam Design of The International Committee of Large Dams.

    Les tremblements de terre ont toujours été un aspect important de la conception et de la sécurité des barrages. Ce document de synthèse traite de la sécurité sismique des grands barrages, en se fondant sur l’expérience acquise lors de grands séismes au Japon (séisme de Tohoku, 2011, magnitude 9,0 sur l’échelle de Richter), en Chine (séisme de Wenchuan, 2008, magnitude 8,0 sur l’échelle de Richter) et au Chili (séisme de Maule, 2010, magnitude 8,8 sur l’échelle de Richter). Il présente des moyens de prévenir les aspects clés de la défaillance des grands barrages dans des conditions sismiques sévères en mettant l’accent sur la conception plutôt que sur la prévision des séismes. Pour ce faire, on examine la prévention d’une libération rapide et incontrôlée de l’eau d’un barrage de stockage dans des conditions de réservoir plein par rapport aux conditions sismiques prévues.

    Cet argumentaire est composé par le Comité sur les Aspects Sismiques des Projets de Barrages de la Commission Internationale des Grands Barrages.

    Introduction. What earthquake action does a dam have to withstand? Seismic hazard is a multi-hazard. What could happen in the case of strong earthquakes? Could reservoirs be lowered in case of successful earthquake predictions? Can earthquakes be triggered by storage dams? What are the main concerns with respect to the earthquake safety of large storage dams? The role of ICOLD. Conclusions. Photos related to dam safety and earthquakes.


    The Commission Internationale des Grands Barrages (CIGB) / International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) is a non-governmental International Organization which provides a forum for the exchange of knowledge and experience in dam engineering.

    The organization leads the profession in ensuring that dams are built safely, efficiently, economically, and without detrimental effects on the environment. Its original aim was to encourage advances in the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of large dams and their associated civil works, by collecting and disseminating relevant information and by studying related technical questions.

    Since the late 1960s, focus was put on subjects of current concern such as dam safety, monitoring of performance, reanalysis of older dams and spillways, effects of ageing and environmental impact. More recently, new subjects include cost studies at the planning and construction stages, harnessing international rivers, information for the public at large, and financing.