The theme for Sunday is Science, which involves my reading an article in one of my husband’s Popular Science or Scientific American magazines and telling you about what I learned. Science is not my strong suit, nor something I am inherently interested in, but I’m not against the use and sharing of it. Might as well break out of my comfort zone and learn some new information while practicing writing about all kinds of things.

So, today’s topic is Big Bertha, the nickname given to the world’s largest tunnel-drilling machine. I had a hard time picking a topic of the 3 magazines I had to look through, but I chose this one because it’s a local story!


Way back in 2001, an earthquake on the Seattle fault line heavily damaged the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a central part of Seattle’s Route 99 highway. The epicenter of the 6.8 magnitude earthquake was down near Olympia and the Nisqually Indian Reservation, resulting in the name, “Nisqually Earthquake.” Most of the damage occurred in downtown Seattle, especially to unreinforced concrete buildings. After city officials assessed the damage, they decided that instead of fixing the highway, they would just build a new one… underground! Demolition of the damaged highway did not start until 2011, which reminds me that the pointlessly bureauctratic Vogons of Douglas Adams’ books were based on a certain type of human. Then early in 2013, a Japanese-designed mega-drill, nicknamed “Big Bertha” in honor of its size as well as the first female mayor of Seattle, Bertha Knight Landes, was brought to Seattle by boat and reassembled to prepare for the daunting task of digging the tunnel for this new highway. She started drilling in July and is expected to be finished digging the 1.7-mile tunnel in time for the double-decker underground highway to be open for transit in 2015.

But just how big is Big Bertha? She measures 57 feet in diameter, 325 feet in length, and weighs 7,000 tons. Across the front of her head are 600 4×6-inch drill bits that cut into the rock, soil, and sand, chugging along at a rate of 35 feet per day. She even has her own power source, so her 25,000-horsepower engine doesn’t cut into Seattle’s power! How about that? It amazes me that humans, with enough brainpower, time, and money  (Bertha cost $80,000,000 to build!), can do anything. I’m seriously impressed. That’s a big drill! And it was built specifically for the purpose of building a highway in a safer place. That’s thinking for the future! Happy thoughts and prayers go out to the 25 workers who have to tunnel down 200 feet, where the air pressure is akin to the pressure you’d feel 165 feet underwater in the open ocean, just to change the small drills when they wear out! This will happen about 20 times during Bertha’s journey. What a job! Here’s hoping that everything goes well and everything turns out as planned!

Did you know about Bertha before this? Know anything I don’t? Leave a comment! 🙂


“Full Bore.” Erin Brodwin. Popular Science, pg 11. November 2013.

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3 thoughts on “Science Sunday: Big Bertha

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