Professor John Beauchamp Berrill

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Published 16 December 2020
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Professor John Beauchamp Berrill

Passed away in Christchurch on Friday, October 9, 2020, in his 79th year. 

John received his BE from the University of Canterbury in 1964. Subsequently he obtained a Masters degree from the University of Colorado working with Professors Larry Feeser and Hon Yim Ko and from there a PhD from Caltech where he studied under Prof Ronald Scott. For his PhD John worked on attenuation and directivity effects in strong ground motion as well as on the evaluation of site response as indicated in recorded ground motions.

On completion of his PhD John took an academic appointment at the University of Newcastle in 1975. In 1977 he moved to the University of Canterbury, Department of Civil Engineering.

John’s research and professional activities have contributed to the NZ understanding of earthquake geotechnical engineering in a number of areas which were detailed in the Citation accompanying his Life Membership award by NZSEE in 2011.

In summary

The CUSP seismograph, which was selected from a handful of international contenders for regional strong motion recording in the GeoNet Project, exploited the mass-produced accelerometers used to trigger automotive airbags. John subsequently devised the layout of a Canterbury Regional Network, which is now operated as an integral part of the GeoNet system, and installed the network before the 2010 Darfield Earthquake, thus ensuring that the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence became one of the best-recorded events in the world.

Some of John’s work on retaining structures was funded by the Structures Committee of the former Road Research Committee of the National Roads Board. John contributed to the So ciety’s Study Group on the Seismic Design of Bridges leading the discussion and reporting on design earthquake loading. He was also involved with the discussions on earth retaining structures.

An analytical study of the conditions under which fault rupture is diverted around buildings was then extended to the effect of ridges and hillsides in displacing the surface expression of faults, a result which has been adopted into common geological interpretation practice.

Perhaps the most significant contribution made by John relates to the prediction of liquefaction, in conjunction with Professor Rob Davis, his colleague from the University of Canterbury. Their work was based on the concept of the liquefaction being related to dissipation of energy in the soil. Parameters for the energy dissipation had to be linked with engineering seismology ideas about the spread of energy from the earthquake source. This thinking was developed at a time when the approach to liquefaction prediction was almost totally based on empirical observation and the use of the Standard Penetration Test results.

A further aspect of John and Robs liquefaction work was EQC funded research on the liquefaction risk in Christchurch – found to be significant, years before the 2010 Darfield Earthquake.

Part of his interest in liquefaction involved work searching for past evidence of liquefaction in NZ. Investigations of sites in the Buller region which were known to have liquefied during the Murchison and Inangahua earthquakes provided valuable data on NZ conditions as did his work on the Landing Road bridge near Whakatane after the Edgecumbe earthquake. 

John will also be remembered for his untiring student mentoring work and his constant efforts to find financial support for students. 

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ISSN 0111-6851