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Skyscraper that may cause earthquakes
· World's tallest building may have reopened fault
· Doubts cast on plans for Sky City in Japan
Taipei 101 is a building with a lot to boast about. Standing 508 metres (1,667ft) high, it is the world's tallest. And at 700,000 tonnes, it must be among the heaviest.
But the sheer size of the Taiwan skyscraper has raised unexpected concerns that may have far-reaching implications for the construction of other buildings and man-made megastructures. Taipei 101 is thought to have triggered two recent earthquakes because of the stress that it exerts on the ground beneath it.
According to the geologist Cheng Horng Lin, from the National Taiwan Normal University, the stress from the skyscraper may have reopened an ancient earthquake fault. If he is right, then it raises concerns about proposals such as Sky City 1000 in Japan, the vertical city that has been proposed to solve Tokyo's housing problems. And it is not just skyscrapers that are a problem. Dams and underground waste deposits may also cause rumblings if they become too large.
Before the construction of Taipei 101, the Taipei basin was a very stable area with no active earthquake faults at the surface. Its earthquake activity was similar to parts of the UK, with micro-earthquakes (less than magnitude 2) happening about once a year.
However, once Taipei 101 started to rise from the ground, things changed. "The number of earthquakes increased to around two micro-earthquakes per year during the construction period (1997 to 2003).
"Since the construction finished there have been two larger earthquakes (magnitude 3.8 and 3.2) directly beneath Taipei 101, which were big enough to feel," says Dr Lin.
Meanwhile, the idea of carbon sequestration - reducing global warming by locking up carbon dioxide in holes under- ground, will be pointless if earthquakes let all the carbon dioxide escape. "Huge amounts of fluid are going to be put in large cavities and earthquakes are a real concern," says Leonardo Seeber, a geologist from the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory in New York. "I am less worried about nuclear waste as it is more likely to be put in a small tunnels rather than huge cavities," he adds.
Compared with dams and underground waste deposits, skyscrapers such as Taipei 101 are mere pinpricks on the Earth's surface. "It is a point load which is probably going to be insignificant at depth," says Dr Seeber.