Scientists Examine Challenges and Lessons From Japan's Earthquake and Tsunami



[1] A week after the magnitude 9.0 great Tohoku earthquake and the resulting tragic and damaging tsunami of 11 March struck Japan, the ramifications continued, with a series of major aftershocks (as Eos went to press, there had been about 4 dozen with magnitudes greater than 6); the grim search for missing people—the death toll was expected to approximate 10,000; the urgent assistance needed for the more than 400,000 homeless and the 1 million people without water; and the frantic efforts to avert an environmental catastrophe at Japan's damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, about 225 kilometers northeast of Tokyo, where radiation was leaking. The earthquake offshore of Honshu in northeastern Japan (see Figure 1) was a plate boundary rupture along the Japan Trench subduction zone, with the source area of the earthquake estimated at 400–500 kilometers long with a maximum slip of 20 meters, determined through various means including Global Positioning System (GPS) and seismographic data, according to Kenji Satake, professor at the Earthquake Research Institute of the University of Tokyo. In some places the tsunami may have topped 7 meters—the maximum instrumental measurement at many coastal tide gauges—and some parts of the coastline may have been inundated more than 5 kilometers inland, Satake indicated. The International Tsunami Information Center (ITIC) noted that eyewitnesses reported that the highest tsunami waves were 13 meters high. Satake also noted that continuous GPS stations indicate that the coast near Sendai—which is 130 kilometers west of the earthquake and is the largest city in the Tohoku region of Honshu—moved more than 4 meters horizontally and subsided about 0.8 meter.