Monday, March 14, 2011

Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011: a Little News; a Little Science

"Japan 'Big One' May Raise Quake Risk for Years, Help End Mystery of Plates"
Jonathan Tirone, (March 13, 2011)

"The Japanese earthquake that sent a 7-meter (23-foot) tsunami onto land and may have killed more than 10,000 people is erasing some of the mystery of the Earth's crust even as it sparks more temblors in the Pacific for years.

"Stress levels changed on the undersea plates extending 500 kilometers to the east and west of the epicenter, likely provoking aftershocks 'for a long time,' said Eric Fielding, a principal scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The Pasadena, California, research group is using data from Japan to help scientists forecast follow-on shifts in crustal plates.

"Japan's largest quake on record, which may have knocked the planet 3.9 inches off its axis as one plate slid beneath another, will 'greatly improve understanding of the risk of these events in other locations around the Pacific and elsewhere,' Fielding said in a written reply to questions...."

"...Scientists measure plate slips to determine how fault lines interact with each other. The March 11 Japanese quake qualifies as the new 'big one,' Reitbock said.

"A 6.9-magnitude earthquake in Kobe, western Japan, killed more than 6,000 people in 1995, while the 7.9-magnitude Great Kanto Quake of 1923 destroyed 576,262 structures and killed an estimated 140,000.

"Other large quakes may still threaten Japan, wrote Wolfgang Lenhardt, section head at the Seismological Service of Austria, who has been studying data from the quake. The subduction zone, an area where one tectonic plate is forced under another, to the east of Japan still haven't become active, Lenhardt said. 'Whether this is imminent to happen or will take another 10 years remains to be experienced.' "

There's quite a bit going on in that article, including a summary of other major, recent, tectonic events along the eastern and southeastern edge of Asia. The bottom line seems to be that we're learning a lot - and learning that some earlier assumptions aren't valid.

"Japan crisis 'worst since WWII'"
Damian Grammaticas, BBC News (March 13, 2011)

"As you enter the tsunami zone, there is nothing but devastation stretching away into the distance.

(Reuters, via BBC, used w/o permission)

"It begins just a few miles from the skyscrapers of Sendai city. You can see the city's tower blocks nearby but, as you head towards the seashore, everything has been destroyed.

"A vast swathe of land along the coast, perhaps a couple of miles deep, has been inundated.

"Field after field is flooded, the ditches along the roadside are full of cars swept away by the waves of water that poured through here, and debris from thousands of homes lies everywhere. In one flooded field alone I counted more than 50 cars...."

(USGS, via BBC, used w/o permission)

The BBC piece is a sort of 'what I saw' article: and gives (in the Lemming's opinion) a pretty good impression of what's going on in one part of Japan, as seen by one reporter.

"Global rescue teams arrive to lend hand"
Masami Ito, The Japan Times Online (March 13, 2011)

"Facing the chance that more than 10,000 people were dead in the wake of the deadly earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan, international rescue teams have been arriving to give assistance.

"German help: Rescue team members from Germany wait with their dogs for a bus to travel to Sendai on Sunday after arriving at Narita airport.

"On Sunday morning, teams with search dogs arrived at Narita International Airport from Germany and Switzerland, bringing 41 members and three dogs from Germany and 27 workers and nine dogs from Switzerland. A 15-member Chinese emergency team, the first dispatched to Japan, and a team of 72 rescuers from the U.S. with search dogs arrived later in the day. 'I am very grateful for the warm support of the international community,' Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Saturday evening.

"The Foreign Ministry said the German and Swiss groups will head to the city of Tome, Miyagi Prefecture, while the U.S. team is expected to head to Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture. The destinations are subject to change, depending on the situation at each place, the ministry said...."

A look at who's helping, what's being done - and the scale of this disaster. Looks like the early reports were - maybe not optimistic, but a reflection of what folks in Japan were able to discover in the first few hours.

"How the Japan Earthquake Shortened Days on Earth" (March 13, 2011)

"The massive earthquake that struck northeast Japan Friday (March 11) has shortened the length Earth's day by a fraction and shifted how the planet's mass is distributed.

"A new analysis of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan has found that the intense temblor has accelerated Earth's spin, shortening the length of the 24-hour day by 1.8 microseconds, according to geophysicist Richard Gross at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

"Gross refined his estimates of the Japan quake's impact – which previously suggested a 1.6-microsecond shortening of the day – based on new data on how much the fault that triggered the earthquake slipped to redistribute the planet's mass. A microsecond is a millionth of a second...."

(USGS, via, used w/o permission)
"This map shows the location of the March 11, 2011 earthquake in Japan, as well as the foreshocks (dotted lines), including a 7.2-magnitude event on March 9, and aftershocks (solid lines). The size of each circle represents the magnitude of the associated quake or shock.

The article's about the science of the earthquake. We won't have to re-set our clocks, even though Earth's days aren't as long as they were last week: 1.8 microseconds is 0.0000018 seconds, if the Lemming got the numbers right. That's not even a blink of an eye. Which is about 150 milliseconds: and that's another topic.

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