Forces of Change

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Soils Affect Construction

Soils can make or break construction projects. Engineers and soil scientists measure soil strength to see how easily a soil changes shape or shifts, to see whether it will bear the weight of structures.

Watch out for soil texture and type of clay. Building on the wrong soil, or without footings on unstable clay or sand, leads to foundations that crack, landfills that leak, dams that break, and sports fields that flood.

Teton Dam failure
Teton Dam Failure, June 1976
During the first filling of the reservoir, the dam burst when the water was 270 feet deep. It drained in less than 6 hours, setting off more than 200 landslides in the canyon below, taking 11 lives, and causing millions of dollars of property damage.
Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
Laguna Beach landslide
Laguna Beach Landslide, June 2005
Extremely heavy winter rainfall had soaked the soil and raised groundwater, destabilizing the slopes of Bluebird Canyon. This home was undermined and eleven homes were destroyed.
Pamela Irvine/California Geological Survey