Myths and fallacies in the Groningen earthquake problem

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I was somewhat surprized with the fog in Groningen upon my arrival. This is not
the fog that covers the beautiful landscapes of the northern Netherlands in the
evening and in the early morning. No… It is the fog that obscures the real aspects
of the earthquake problem in the region and is crystallised in the phrase “Groningen earthquakes are different”, which I have encountered numerous times whenever I raised a question of the type “But why..?”. A sentence taken out of the quiver as the absolute technical argument which mysteriously overshadows the whole earthquake discussion.
Q: Why do we not use Eurocode 8 for seismic design, instead of NPR?
A: Because the Groningen earthquakes are different!
Q: Why do we not monitor our structures like the rest of the world does?
A: Because the Groningen earthquakes are different!
Q: Why does NPR, the Dutch seismic guidelines, dictate some unusual rules?
A: Because the Groningen earthquakes are different!
Q: Why are the hazard levels incredibly high, even higher than most European
seismic countries?
A: Because the Groningen earthquakes are different!
and so it keeps going…
This statement is very common, but on the contrary, I have not seen a single piece of research that proves it or even discusses it. In essence, it would be a difficult task to prove that the Groningen earthquakes are different. In any case it barricades a healthy technical discussion because most of the times the arguments converge to one single statement, independent of the content of the discussion. This is the reason why our first research activities were dedicated to study if the Groningen earthquakes are really different. Up until today, we have not found any major differences between the Groningen induced seismicity events and natural seismic events with similar conditions (magnitude, distance, depth, soil etc…) that would affect the structures significantly in a different way.
Since my arrival in Groningen, I have been amazed to learn how differently the
earthquake issue has been treated in this part of the world. There will always be
differences among different cultures, that is understandable. I have been exposed to several earthquake engineers from different countries, and I can expect a natural variation in opinions, approaches and definitions. But the feeling in Groningen is different. I soon realized that, due to several factors, a parallel path, which I call “an augmented reality” below, was created. What I mean by an augmented reality is a view of the real-world, whose elements are augmented and modified. In our example, I refer to the engineering concepts used for solving the earthquake problem, but in an augmented and modified way. This augmented reality is covered in the fog I described above. The whole thing is made so complicated that one is often tempted to rewind the tape to the hot August days of 2012, right after the Huizinge Earthquake, and replay it to today but this time by making the correct steps. We would wake up to a different Groningen today.
I was instructed to keep the text as well as the inauguration speech as simple as
possible, and preferably, as non-technical as it goes. I thus listed the most common myths and fallacies I have faced since I arrived in Groningen. In this book and in the presentation, I may seem to take a critical view. This is because I try to tell a different part of the story, without repeating things that have already been said several times before. I think this is the very reason why my research group would like to make an effort in helping to solve the problem by providing different views. This book is one of such efforts.

The quote given at the beginning of this book reads “How quick are we to learn: that is, to imitate what others have done or thought before. And how slow are we to understand: that is, to see the deeper connections.” is from Frits Zernike, the Nobel winning professor from the University of Groningen, who gave his name to the campus I work at. Applying this quotation to our problem would mean that we should learn from the seismic countries by imitating them, by using the existing state-of-the-art earthquake engineering knowledge, and by forgetting the dogma of “the Groningen earthquakes are different” at least for a while. We should then pass to the next level of looking deeper
into the Groningen earthquake problem for a better understanding, and also
discover the potential differences.
Translated title of the contributionMythen en misvattingen rond de aardbevingsproblematiek in Groningen
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationGroningen
PublisherHanze University of Applied Sciences, Groningen - Research Centre for Built Environment – NoorderRuimte
Number of pages60
ISBN (Print)978-90-826635-1-8
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • earthquakes
  • groningen


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