06 April 2017

Christchurch liquefaction specialist a finalist for Young Engineer of the Year

Young engineer Virginie

Virginie Lacrosse is one of three finalists for Young Engineer of the Year, which will be announced in Wellington on Friday night.

Virginie started working for Tonkin + Taylor in 2011, right in the middle of the Canterbury earthquakes sequence. Despite being a mechanical engineer by training, she quickly earned a place at the forefront of liquefaction work.

More than 51,000 properties suffered some sort of liquefaction damage during the earthquakes – with one in three suffering major foundation damage.

Virginie’s work focused on analysing large and complex data sets to determine if properties were vulnerable to liquefaction.

She says making sense of the excessive amounts of data was a huge challenge. “We had to think outside the box. While this was a geotechnical problem, we had to look further afield and get computer science engineers, programmers and GIS analysts to join our team so we could make sense of all this data.”

Their analysis revealed that 12,500 properties had subsided by at least 0.5 metre – and 1000 of these by at least 1 metre.

It also revealed that some properties were now more vulnerable to liquefaction than they had been before the earthquakes, information that was used to help secure compensation for the owners of these properties.

Auckland-based Virginie has become one of New Zealand’s leading liquefaction hazard mapping specialists and currently leads several projects located around New Zealand identifying areas that are vulnerable to liquefaction.

She says Councils are now making more informed decisions around liquefaction risk and as a result, communities are becoming more resilient.

“For example, I’m currently working with a council that’s looking at building a new suburb. Previously, this council would have built this suburb without giving liquefaction risk much thought.

“Now, they are making a conscious decision on whether or not to build on this liquefaction-susceptible land and, if they eventually choose to, they know the new properties will required more robust foundations or ground improvements to mitigate the risk of liquefaction-induced land damage, should an earthquake occur.”

The IPENZ Young Engineer of Year award recognises exceptional engineers under the age of 30. The other two finalists are Lachlan Matchett, Vice President of Propulsion at Rocket Lab, and Oliver Whalley, who has been leading sustainable transport projects in the Pacific for the World Bank.

The winner will be announced on Friday 7 April at the IPENZ Fellows’ and Achievers’ Awards in Wellington.