Reservoir-induced seismicity at Nurek Reservoir in Tajikistan: case example

Barbara Tewksbury, Hamilton College

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This page first made public: May 10, 2012


Students use Google Earth to interpret aspects of the general bedrock geology and tectonic setting of the area around Nurek Reservoir in Tajikistan, evaluate reservoir induced seismicity associated with the reservoir, and evaluate the risk of slope failure.



Structural geology course for geo majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Interpreting patterns of outcrop traces in Google Earth, pore fluid pressure, Mohr circle for stress, general knowledge about mass movement events.

How the activity is situated in the course

In some years, I have used this as part of a homework assignment and, in other years, as part of a take-home exam. It could also be used in a lab. I have also used it as an introduction to a writing assignment based on the article by Leith listed in the references.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The primary goal is for students to apply content and concepts that they have already learned, but they also learn about reservoir induced seismicity, slope stability, and the usefulness of structural geology concepts in another discipline.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Interpret bedrock geology using Google Earth; use Mohr circle to solve a problem; synthesize a general picture of reservoir induced seismicity.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description and Teaching Materials

Students study the Nurek Reservoir area in Google Earth and make interpretations about the general bedrock geology (layered rock, probably sedimentary; variable dips, probably folded; maybe faulted). Each student makes observations and interpretations in Google Earth placemarks and saves them as a kmz file. Students then do a little sleuthing on the tectonic setting of the region and describe how modern plate motions influence this part of Tajikistan. Students then do some simple calculations and use a Mohr circle diagram to evaluate various aspects of the reservoir induced seismicity at Nurek and address the question of why most big reservoirs do not, in fact, experience reservoir induced seismicity. The activity wraps up with analysis of the vulnerability of Nurek Dam to a Vaoint Dam-type disaster. The latter ties together the observations that students made in Google Earth about regional geology, the existence of reservoir induced seismicity, and the tectonic setting.

have sometimes followed this up with an assignment in which students read Leith (1981), listed below in the references, with the abstract cut off. Their task is to write a suitable abstract for the article. Thanks to Jan Tullis at Brown for the idea for this writing assignment!

Assignment for Nurek Reservoir case example (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 235kB May10 12)

Teaching Notes and Tips


Students individually submit written analyses with argument and evidence.

References and Resources

Leith, William, 1981, Structure and permeability; geologic controls on induced seismicity at Nurek Reservoir, Tadjikistan, USSR: Geology, v. 9, no. 10, p. 440-444.