Monday, 27 October 2014


The biography of Dr. Stig Bernander reads like that of a ‘Rock’ Star except in his case, he is better known for his work with clays rather than rocks, especially “Quick Clay”.  Some of this “sensitive” material is present at the North Spur, the projection of land creating the natural dam at Muskrat Falls.  It is one of the issues which threaten the viability of the project.

Dr. Bernander, you ask?  Who is he and why would you be interested? I will get to those questions in a moment. First, what are “Quick Clays”?

Quick Clays are unique, sensitive glaciomarine clays.  The clay deposits occurred when sea water levels were much higher.  They are unstable clays. Their peculiar characteristics are known to cause landslides.  When Quick Clay is subjected to sufficient stress, the material may liquefy. At Muskrat Falls, Quick Clay could undermine the structural integrity of the North Spur. Remediation is potentially a money pit.  It is a public safety issue, too.

One of the best known and large Quick Clay landslides occurred at Rissa, Norway.  The slide was videoed as it progressed. The event is as exciting as it is horrifying. If you choose to follow the Link, just be patient for the first couple of minutes and the Rissa video will demonstrate why Quick Clay should be taken very seriously. It is the perfect primer in advance of Dr. Bernander’s Lecture. 

Bernander is neither politician nor bureaucrat. He is a scientist; one with long industry experience.

Naturally, it is difficult for individuals not technically trained to get their heads around the mechanics of landslides. But I have been assured Dr. Bernander can discuss his subject as readily to a layperson as he can to Professional Engineers and Geoscientists.

Who is this Dr. Stig Bernander and why is he lecturing in St. John’s?  Who invited him? Why have members of the public been invited?

First, let me give you full disclosure.  The Bernander Lecture Group is headed by Cabot Martin and includes both singer, Con O’Brien, and your Uncle Gnarley scribe.  Martin is well-known for his activism against Muskrat Falls.  He has written a Book entitled “Muskrat Madness” which gives particular emphasis to the issue of “Quick Clay” at the North Spur.
Dr. Bernander’s time is offered pro bono. The Bernander Lecture Group has raised money from private individuals, including the 2041 Group, to pay the cost of travel, for the LSPU Hall and for other expenses.  


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Why Stig Bernander? 

Bernander is a recognized international expert. 

Dr. Stig Bernander
He studied civil engineering and became Head the Design Department of Sanska, one of the world's leading project development and construction groups. After a 40 year distinguished career, he started his own consulting company. He has been engaged in major civil engineering works such as bridges, dams, harbors, tunnels, dry docks, off-shore structures (including North Sea Gravity Base Structures), buildings, underground storages and water supply structures.  He has worked diverse countries including Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Poland, Monaco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

In the years 1980 – 1998, Stig Bernander served as an Adjunct Professor at the Division of Structural Engineering at Luleå University of Technology, Sweden.

The next part of his Bio is critically important:

After a large landslide in Tuve, Sweden in 1977, he began developing an engineering model for slope stability analysis on ‘sensitive’ clays.

He developed software for the model during the 1980s and, in 2000, summarized his findings in a PhD thesis at Luleå University.  An unpublished Paper by a Professional Engineer familiar with Bernander writes: “the thesis conveys his experiences of slide modeling focusing on the nature of triggering agents and the different phases that a slope may undergo before its stability becomes truly critical.”

Dr. Bernander is 86. He is still lecturing. 

Because of Cabot Martin’s work, his chance encounter with Dr. Bernander, and a wider public concern over the issue of “Quick Clay”, the Lecture Group had an opportunity to invite the “guru” himself; the very scientist whose studies constitute the most up-to-date work in this field.  So, how could we not invite him? 

One other point deserves mention.

Dr. Bernander’s visit occurs on the heels of a Hearing by the Public Utilities Board at which Nalcor challenged the Grand River Keeper's right to ask questions about its investigation and proposed remediation of the Quick Clay problem at the North Spur.  Grand River Keepers is a Labrador Environmental Group. The PUB has taken the step of allowing several of their questions to stand.  You will be hearing more about Quick Clay in the coming months. 

Still, one should ask why Nalcor would attempt to deny public inquiry and discussion of a controversial technical issue; one with implications for the safety of the residents of Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Mud Lake?  Why all the secrecy over what is an important scientific issue? 

Dr. Bernander will not answer those issues.  These are matters we must resolve ourselves, as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

As citizens, I suggest we ought not to be deferential to leadership structures, whether Nalcor or the Government.  We should never be afraid to challenge their decisions or require disclosure. Your Government simply owes you that much. 

On the issue of Quick Clay, what better way to engage in that process than to hear an Engineer who has spent two careers, one in large scale construction design and consulting and another as an academic studying precisely that problem; a person whose research is respected world-wide and who is willing to share that expertise.

The Bernander Lecture will be held on Thursday, October 30th at the LSPU Hall, 8:00 PM. 

Admission is FREE. Seats must be reserved by emailing:

There are a few places still available.  You will need to hurry to reserve yours.   

1 comment:

  1. The North Spur issue is very much a paradox. To my knowledge there has never been a earth dam constructed of marine clay, however there has been examples of where concrete dams have been built on marine clay foundations. I do not doubt the engineering competencies of the companies who are looking at the problem, but I do look forward to this alternative view.

    What thing is certain, both through the engineering which is now just being done, and the delay in the award of the contract is that Nalcor underestimated the scope of this work, and left it too late. In December 2013 the engineering on the project was substantially completed. Yet 2014 was a very busy year in assessment of the North Spur. Nalcor continues to spend millions each month in engineering, in other parts of Canada, examining this issue. Is this in accordance with the plan?

    My feeling is that Cabot has raised both the public, and Nalcor's own awareness on this issue. They are doing the right work, but it is too late, and reactive. This should have been looked at in 2011, and 2012 when Nalcor were doing the other early engineering.

    The rehabilitation of the SPUR is now at least a year later... and that is only if they get an acceptable engineered solution.

    What is the total cost of this, and how does it compare to the DG2 budget?

    I also believe that due to the issue of Public Safety this should be reviewed in some public forum. The PUB can not exclude this assessment from their ongoing hearings.