ABSTRACT

During the past 150 yr, the city of Almaty (formerly Verny) in Kazakhstan has suffered significant damage due to several large earthquakes. The 9 June 1887 Mw 7.3 Verny earthquake occurred at a time when the city mainly consisted of adobe buildings with a population of 30,000, with it being nearly totally destroyed with 300 deaths. The 3 January 1911 Mw 7.8 Kemin earthquake caused 390 deaths, with 44 in Verny itself. Remarkably, this earthquake, which occurred around 40 km from Verny, caused significant soil deformation and ground failure in the city. A crucial step toward preparing for future events, mitigating against earthquake risk, and defining optimal engineering designs, involves undertaking site response studies. With regard to this, we investigate the possibility that the extreme ground failure observed after the 1911 Kemin earthquake could have been enhanced by the presence of a shallow frozen ground layer that may have inhibited the drainage of pore pressure excess through the surface, therefore inducing liquefaction at depth. We make use of information collected regarding the soil conditions around the city at the time of the earthquakes, the results from seismic noise analysis, borehole data, and surface temperature data. From these datasets, we estimated the necessary parameters for evaluating the dynamic properties of the soil in this area. We successively characterize the corresponding sediment layers at the sites of the observed liquefaction. Although the estimated soil parameters are not optimally constrained, the dynamic analysis, carried out using selected strong‐motion recordings that are expected to be compatible with the two considered events, indicated that the extensive ground failure that occurred during the Kemin event could be due to the presence of a superficial frozen soil layer. Our results indicate that for this region, possible seasonal effects should, therefore, be considered when undertaking site effect studies.

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