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The 2011 Tsunami in Japan The recent 8.9-magnitude earthquake that struck northern Japan last March 11, 2011 had once again shock the world of what an earthquake can do if it occurs. For the past 10 years, some of the noted catastrophic phenomena that shock the world are the tsunami in Thailand and the 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile. Japan had been known as an earthquake-proof country, a title given after knowing that it always experience earthquakes as strong as a magnitude of 6.6 ( With such description, the country itself had developed ways to resist earthquakes on their sky-rocketed buildings but the recent earthquake that struck their country had changed everything. One fact that was mentioned by the New York Times is that the 8.9magnitude earthquake that struck the northern Japan on March 11, 2011 had moved the coastline and changed the balance of the planet. Global positioning stations closest to the epicenter jumped eastward by up to 13 feet. Also, NASA scientists had calculated that the redistribution of mass by the earthquake might have shortened the day by a couple of millionths of a second and the Earths axis had slightly tilted.These are the aftermath changes but the question now is how does earthquake generates? How can an earthquake generate tsunami? By definition, an earthquake is a sudden ground shaking caused by a sudden slip on a fault (USGS). We all know that the ground beneath our feet is not as solid as it seems and the earths crusts have mainly multiple cracks and areas of weaknesses. These cracks were known as fault lines and when these fault lines experience movements, they can end up rubbing or sliding against opposing rock faces causing severe stress to cause the sudden rumbles that we feel during an earthquake (USGS). All throughout the world, about 90% of the worlds earthquakes occur in the Ring of Fire also called as the Circum-Pacific belt that is surrounding the Pacific Ocean. The earthquake that happened in last March 11 was due to a large size fault rupture in the Pacific Plate that is continuously thrusting beneath Japan (USGS Scientist Tom Brocher). Statistics of the earthquake had showed that the size of the rupture along the boundary between the Pacific and North American plates was estimated as 180 miles long and 50 miles across (USGS).The shaking was felt for 3-5 minutes and the depth of the quake was 15.2 miles from the ground surface (USGS). The earthquake had generated a 497 mph tsunami that hit Sendai 8-10 minutes after the warning was given. Another interesting phenomenon that resulted from earthquake is tsunami. Many people have no idea on the science behind tsunami. Most of them had mistakenly referred tsunami to tidal wave which is a different phenomenon. A tsunami is a series of great sea waves caused by an underwater earthquake, landslide or volcanic eruption (National Geographic).It is different from a wind generated surface wave on the ocean (Geoscience Australia). An earthquake can generate a tsunami if the magnitude is sufficient enough to cause a violent movement of the earth that can displace massive amount of water. The displaced water mass moves under the effect of gravity and that the water radiates across the ocean similar to ripples in ponds (Burande par. 2).According to National Geographic, tsunami waves can be very long, as much as 60 miles and they can cross an entire ocean without a great loss of energy. Since the ocean is very deep, tsunamis can travel unnoticed on the water surface at speeds up to 500mph, crossing an ocean in a day or less. It can be less than a foot in height on the surface of the ocean which is why they are difficult to identify but when they reaches shallow water near the coast, it slowed


down.However, the water column still in deeper water is moving slightly faster and catches up, resulting in the wave bunching up and becoming much higher (Geoscience Australia). Then, the top of the wave moves faster than the bottom causing the sea to rise. The initial wave is often not the largest one (NDEC). The largest wave may occur several hours after the initial activity starts at a coastal location and theyare destructive because of the violent currents they generate. National Geographic mentioned that a tsunamis trough, the low point beneath the waves crest, often reaches the shore first. When it does, it produces a vacuum effect that sucks coastal water seaward and harbor and sea floors (which happened in Thailand last 2004). The retreating water contributes on the accumulation of an enormous volume of water that typically hit the shore in five minutes or later. A representation of how tsunami occurs is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: How DoesTsunami Occur?

Thrust faulting, a violent movement of a tectonic plate compressing underneath another plate causes an upward movement of the plate that releases large amount of energy and displaces vast amounts of ocean water causing tsunami. From the epicenter, the energy radiates and travels up to more than 500 mph. When the tsunami comes near the shore, the shallow water causes the wave height to increase and the waves continuously move inland because so much water and energy has built up behind them. In Japan, the wave was measured to reach as high as more than 20 feet along the coast.

Source: All About Tsunamis. The Chevron Cars. N.p., n.d.. Web. 22 March 2011.

Even though tsunami has been identified to be destructive, many countries like America and Japan had developed ways to protect their borders against it. Japan had developed a 4.5 m tsunami wall in populated coastal areas but the tsunami that was generated by the recent earthquake in Japan had go over the tsunami wall built in Sendai Japan. As a result, water with mud sweep over the city sweeping away houses, cars and everything else in its path. Some measures developed against tsunamis does not necessary prevent total destruction and loss of life. It only slow down and moderates a tsunami. Examples of which are the floodgates and channels that were built to redirect the water from the tsunami, the tsunami walls and tsunami warning system. America has the Pacific Tsunami Warning System located in Hawaii that maintains a web of seismic equipment and water level gauges to identify tsunamis at seas. These systems have proven to be very useful in giving warnings of a possible tsunami in the Pacific Ocean because it lessen the damage that might occur on the affected areas.


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