May 21, 2016
Those of us who have some attachment to Christchurch, New Zealand’s second largest city, have become sadly familiar with the term liquifaction. It sounds like it should be a happy word, the word that someone would invent to describe the pleasant buzz you get from consuming just enough but not too much alcohol. Or the feeling you get from gratefully immersing yourself in a warm bath.
In fact the term describes neither of those states. Liquifaction is what happens to particular types of land formations when they are subjected to a strong earthquake. I will spare you the elaborate geological summary, and instead just say that one moment the ground is apparently solid and stable, the next it turns to water. The solid structures built atop that heretofore solid land crack, bend, and often collapse. As an added bonus, the process can concentrate heavy elements normally present in the soil but locked harmlessly away, depositing them as a toxic mess on the surface or releasing them into the air as a hazardous dust.
By now you are probably getting the sense that this particular brevet did not go well for me.