Trevor Carey - Developing Predictive Models To Predict The Impact Of A 9.0 Earthquake

“Being able to work on research that could help both local and global communities is very motivating,” says Dr. Trevor Carey, who is developing tools to help engineers and decision-makers better understand how to keep buildings safe from the impact of large earthquakes. 

Trevor Carey

Education: PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering (University of California Davis), MS and BS in Civil Engineering (Oregon State University) 

What led you to engineering?

I was always fascinated by structures. There was a lot of construction in the area where I grew up, and I was one of those kids who was curious and interested in how buildings and communities are built. 

Once I started studying engineering, I wanted to continue on with research because there are so many unanswered questions, particularly in my area of specialty, which is earthquake engineering. 


Tell us about your research.

I’m looking at things to better protect our communities from the impact of earthquakes, both here in BC and internationally. 

My particular focus is on geotechnical engineering and on the liquefaction that can happen during earthquakes when the ground in some areas basically turns to oatmeal. 

As part of this work, I’m developing numerical models that can help us predict liquefaction effects during the very large 9.0 earthquake we know that is coming for the Cascadia subduction zone. Earthquakes of this size are actually very rare. Since 1900, we’ve only had five of 9.0 magnitude earthquakes and we really only have comprehensive ground motion recording data from the earthquake in Japan in 2011.

So there’s a lot of work to develop useful and predictive models of what will happen in terms of liquefaction and ground movement during an earthquake.

My research involves visiting areas where earthquakes have occurred to look at what has failed and what hasn’t failed. It also includes lab experiments that simulate earthquake forces on soil so we can validate and test our models. 

This information can then be shared with engineers and can guide changes in the way we design buildings to reduce hazards. 

Why is this research important?

The Cascadia earthquake is going to happen – it’s not a matter of if but of when. Doing everything we can to prepare for that earthquake is essential for keeping people and communities safe. And, of course, this area of the world is not the only region subject to earthquakes. 

Being able to work on research that could help both local and global communities is very motivating. 


Watch Dr. Trevor Carey speak at UBC Engineering Open House

What undergraduate courses do you teach?

I teach a course on soil mechanics, which is the second of two required courses. It’s an exciting course because students get to take the theories of soil mechanics they’ve learned in the first semester and begin to apply them to design a geotechnical solution. 

Course on soil mechanics


Does your research influence your teaching?

Definitely. Earthquakes are a fact of life in southwestern British Columbia and probably every project needs to consider design choices that will help the structure be more resilient in the face of a natural disaster. 

What skills do students develop over the course of an engineering degree?

We want students to be trained in the fundamentals so they can use their knowledge to solve problems and develop solutions. 

We also want students to have the professional skills to be successful – to know how to communicate effectively, and how to work in and lead teams. Students learn to be lifelong learners and to maintain a spirit of curiosity and desire to be part of innovative solutions over their career. 


Why should students choose UBC?

UBC offers students a great engineering education. 

You’ll have access to world-class faculty who are addressing challenges faced here in British Columbia, but also challenges facing Canada and countries worldwide. There’s real value placed on how what we are doing can affect communities near and far. The faculty want you to be successful – to be a leader in your profession and community, and they give you the tools to do that.

Two students standing in an outdoor stairwell observing the project site.

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