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Case Study: Japan Earthquake and Tsunami (11th March 2011)

The Japan earthquake occurred on the 11th March 2011. It was the largest earthquake that they have had since records began. It was originally measured as a 8.9 magnitude earthquake but this was later increased to a magnitude 9.0 as more detailed readings came in from seismographs and other equipment. This is an enormous earthquake and it is estimated that it released 10,000 times more energy than the magnitude 6.3 one in Christchurch, New Zealand, 17 days earlier - however energy released is different to magnitude. At least 124 aftershocks were bigger than a magnitude 5.

Earthquakes are measured using the Richter scale, which is a base-10 logarithmic scale. This means that a magnitude 9.0 earthquake is...
  • Twice as big as a magnitude 8.9
  • 10 times bigger than a magnitude 8.0
  • 1,000 times bigger than a magnitude 6.0
  • 1,000,000 times bigger than a magnitude 3.0
Similarly, if an earthquake is .3 bigger than another then that means that it was 3 times bigger.

Click here for videos of the cracks actually moving! Pretty incredible.
^That is reportedly the first time EVER that it has been caught on camera! (Opens in new window)

The Japan earthquake was absolutely devastating. The earthquake itself, although much bigger than usually seen in Japan, was prepared for extensively as they receive many earthquakes every year. What was not adequately prepared for was a tsunami of such scale. Many of the tsunami walls protecting coastline villages were around 7 metres high, no where near big enough to stop the 10 metre high wall of water (the height of a three storey building) that hit the coasts around 30 minutes after the earthquake. This caused many thousands of Japan earthquake victims.

The Tsunami approaching Japan:


They are well prepared within 10 minutes after the earthquake it had been calculated that a tsunami had been formed and warnings were sent out using the Japan earthquake warning system. Text messages were sent to phones, alerts appeared on all TV channels, sirens went off and police alerted residents to the danger. However, people had became desensitised by so many false alarms and assumed tsunami walls could handle it, which meant that many did not evacuate.

The facts barely depict the chaos so I have interspersed them with images to show the tragedy for such a prosperous country that had been proud of their preparedness for such a disaster:

  • There have been over 11,000 Japan earthquake victims so far (as of 30/03/11), with over 17,000 still missing - many of which will also be dead. The predicted death toll is 18,000 however this is likely to increase. 



  • There are currently 244,000 refugees who are seeking shelter in the Japanese earthquake relief camps. With many children still unable to find their parents it is worried that the majority may be 'Japan earthquake orphans'. The question therefore lies in what to do with them, foreigners looking to adopt have been turned down as Japan wants to keep them in their home country and culture. (Contrasting the Haiti orphan crisis) 



  • The tsunami caused a near catastrophic meltdown of a nuclear power plant which exploded multiple times and released radioactive material into the air causing dangerous levels in foodstuffs grown within tens of kilometres.


  • The water supply in many areas is unsafe to drink due to radioactivity and some of the plant workers risking their lives to cool the plant's core were exposed to massive overdoses and are now in hospital. Japan earthquake relief organisations have been handing out water bottles to survivors.


  • Boats were dragged inland and left deserted, houses were ripped from their foundations and scattered among the remains of others, some even stacked on top of each other.






  • Devastation.



The tsunami was caused by an uplift of the sea floor which meant that a lot of water was displaced, it then rushed inland trying to flatten its surface. This wall of water was huge and so powerful that it dragged buildings out of their foundations and destroyed almost everything in it's path. This was not a local incident, vast regions were affected tragically and whole coastal cities have been wiped off the map. Other countries felt this too.

Tsunami wave height map




The tsunami when it hits a city:




This case study shows the true power of nature. No matter how much we prepare, we will always be caught out on occasion and, when we do, it'll be an absolute disaster - like it was in Japan. I believe this was a tragedy and that it has brought seismology back to the front of peoples minds and will give a new push to finding ways to predict these events, to try and save some of the many, many lives that have been lost.

There are many Japan earthquake relief organisations who are over there helping those in trouble and, if you feel you could help with Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief, please donate to one of the many charities out there who are doing everything they can to help. 


Further Reading:


A quote to have a think about:
We don't know the number of victims, but I pray that every single person can be saved.
(Japan's Emperor Akihito - addressing his nation in a rare television appearance)


The GeoMessenger

70 comments:

  1. Nice work Morgan! Mr A

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  2. yeah, nice work. thnks for all the information

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  3. good work....but you could also state some of the effects of the nuclear plany disaster too

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  4. helloooooo people

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  5. very helpful and nice information...!
    i appreciate the case study most...!!
    gud work..keep it up..!

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  6. excellent work

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  7. Thank you everyone for the comments :) Glad it has been interesting and useful!

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  8. Very Useful thanks, can use this in my uni work :)

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  9. THNK U SO MUCH 4 D INFORMATION!

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  10. That's okay, I did work hard to make sure there was a lot of facts and information in there, not just pretty pictures :P

    If any one has suggestions for future posts then feel free to say!

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  11. good job....thank you

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  12. thanx soooooooo much!!!I got a lot of info.
    Awesome job........especially the video.Good u got it on this web page.Thanx again.

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  13. nice work....thanks a lot.......it helped me a lot in making my sistr's school project...:)

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    Replies
    1. thank u soo much...really reallly very helpful.

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    2. THANK YOU SO..MUCH...REALLY HELPED ME ALOT IN MY PROJECT.AWESOME JOB. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK BOSS

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  14. good work itwas helpful

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  15. Thanks for all the comments :) appreciate the thanks!

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  16. shuvani singh27 May 2011 09:18

    thanks! was really informative..helped a lot in makin the project...sad for the japanese! :(

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  17. hey did the earthquake and tsunami occur in the whole japan at once?

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  18. It didn't all occur at exactly the same time: the seismic waves that we define as an earthquake take time to travel through the ground, just as water waves (like the wall of the tsunami) take time to travel through the water.

    So although it was all one main earthquake (excluding the many aftershocks) it was not felt by the whole impacted area at one point in time. It could take 30seconds or more to reach other areas.

    In fact, this time-lapse is used as an early warning system in Los Angeles where, if an earthquake occurs in one area of the fault, warnings will be sent out to the other areas giving them a short warning (10-40 seconds ..ish) to move lifts to floors to stop people getting trapped, start emergency shut-downs of power stations, cancel plane landings, evacuate buildings and so on.

    Hope that helped :)

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  19. what thsnks????????? i feel like crying for the japs

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  20. its very informative......thanx

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  21. thanks helped me with geography! really good, feel so sorry for the poor people!:(

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  22. very nyc information but.. i need a quote for .. dis tragedy.. can u help me.

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  23. There is the one at the bottom by Japan's Emperor Akihito:
    "We don't know the number of victims, but I pray that every single person can be saved."

    or

    "Very few Japanese players in the infrastructure sector are willing to invest time and resources internationally, in the wake of current scenario due to the tsunami and earthquake which struck Japan earlier this year."
    SOURCE: ECONOMIC TIMES 2011-06-19

    "Stable electric supply is indispensable for Japan’s reconstruction from the disaster and its economic recovery." (Referring to the 30+ shut down nuclear plants out of the country's 54)
    SOURCE: ARKANSAS ONLINE 2011-06-19

    "The earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear incident have been the biggest crisis Japan has encountered in the 65 years since the end of World War II. We're under scrutiny on whether we, the Japanese people, can overcome this crisis."
    Prime Minister Naoto Kan

    "The supermarkets and convenience stores in and around Tokyo are still bare. Every time a delivery of food arrives, it's gone within an hour. ... I've been to two supermarkets already and there is nothing to be bought."
    James Stewart, Tokyo resident, e-mail to CNN


    Hope that helps :)

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  24. this is gr8.. it did my enviornmental education project easily!! thanxx..

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  25. thanks a lot for the info! it ws too useful! :)

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  26. Thnx alot!!
    The information was extremely helpful to me in my geography project!!!!!! Thn once again!! :)

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  27. thanx a lot

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  28. amazing thing...got m full marks in my disaster management project

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  29. fantabulous & most helpful case study

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  30. wow im using this for my EM project thanks for the info

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  31. I REALLY APPRECIATE THE CASE STUDY .IT STATES THE INCIDENT VERY CLEARLY.THE INFO IS QUITE WELL STATED.

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  32. i am using this casestudy for my E.V.S project .thanks

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  33. i express my heart filled condolence for the victims

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  34. i express my heart filled condolence for the victims

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  35. Thanks a lot for posting. very informative and useful for my case study work.

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  36. yeah...i would like to give some suggestions....firstly...the words should be written in the past tense...& information about the place where tsunami approached should be more .. u know......u should elaborate it!

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  37. It has been written in the past tense, for example "The Japan earthquake was absolutely devastating" and "people had became desensitised by so many false alarms and assumed tsunami walls could handle it".

    Some sections, for instance where the death count is being discussed, are in present tense as I wrote this in March, just after the earthquake. This meant that bodies were still being found and the death toll was on the increase.

    The earthquake hit the east coast of Japan, covering pretty much the whole length of the country but focusing most heavily on areas like Kesennuma City.

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  38. well done mate, Thank You
    Brazil, RJ

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  39. I find this very interesting, for the Subduction Zone to be able to make such and unbelievable/ devastating earthquake and tsunami. The thing is will it ever happen again in other boundaries along the Pacific Coast, or even the Atlantic Coast??

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    1. Events like this could happen in other subduction zones, have a look online to find a map that shows the subduction areas. The thing is, for an event like this, pressure has to build and build and then be released in one massive event. That means that there cannot be 'fault creep' which is where the two plates gradually move past one another. They must be locked together, unable to move, with pressure building and building until they overcome the resistance.

      Only in a subduction zone that does not show signs of fault creep could this kind of event occur.

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  40. im sexy and i know it

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  41. many thanks. very useful. using it to educate others

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  42. Alright overview... I have to do one of these for my assignment and this isn't as detailed as I would have liked.. you could have included some info on further prevention and the exact location. But other than that, good job and good format!

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    1. This map shows you the exact location:
      http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/51638000/gif/_51638295_japan_quake_sendai_464.gif

      Unfortunately you cannot prevent an earthquake like this occurring, nor the tsunami. You can prevent the loss of life and damage by having higher defences but this was a very rare event and so was not expected at anywhere near this magnitude. Early-warning systems were in place however, as said above, many people didn't listen to them.

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  43. i am so thankfull a great job

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  44. I'm doing an assignment on this, to do my bibliography i need to know when this was published, could you please tell me?

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    1. Sorry for the slow reply. This may not be useful for you any more but for others with the same question: 28/Mar/11

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  45. hey
    could u tell me more about the epicentre and the tectonic plates causing the earthquake
    and some major headlines if u know which were formed in some major newspapers.and even some write out.


    i tried it myself but i got really few i thought that u could help me

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  46. Thankzz pepulzzzzzzzzz....

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  47. qwfqwfffffffffffff

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  48. Great information!!! I can use it for my project in the earthquake in Japan

    Thanks :)

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  49. Thanks, It helped me much in my geo project

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  50. nyc information but u could have provide some more

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  51. Thank youh soo much (;
    helped a lot with my hw

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  52. so jusus isssssssss very coming soooooooooonnnnnn........ r u ready

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  53. hello it's amy and sophie

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  54. PLEASE HAVE OUR APPROVAL JESUS FROM AMY AND SOPHIE XOXOXOXOX

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  55. Well done! This is an excellence information for me! Good job! Keep on going yeah? Hehe! :)

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  56. Wow your case study is so detailed I like it alot!!!

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  57. Thanks for sharing this post with us. Natural disasters like Hurricane Damage, Flood Damage never waits for anyone.They are very uncertain and cause lots of damages to the property and belongings. To handle such damages we need some professionals.
    To know more about it you may visit: http://www.es24waterdamage.com/hurricane-storm-damage-removal-recovery.html

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  58. nice information ......this case study helped me a lot in my assignment....!!!!! thankyou.

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  59. You should have done the effects (Primary + Secondary) and the Responses (Short + Long Term) but other than that it was good!! :)

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