News / Asia

Scientists Express Concern About More Big Japan Quakes

This March 14, 2011 photo shows cars upended and destroyed by the tsunami that struck Sendai port in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, on March 11.
This March 14, 2011 photo shows cars upended and destroyed by the tsunami that struck Sendai port in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, on March 11.

Significant aftershocks continue to shake Japan, more than two months after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that triggered massive tsunami, leaving 25,000 people dead or missing and creating a catastrophe at a coastal nuclear power plant.

Five tremors in excess of magnitude 5.0 on the Richter scale have shaken Japan just this week.  But scientists are warning that the largest expected aftershock has yet to hit.  And, new, devastating inland quakes can also be expected.

Japan hopes to never again hear these chilling words. An NHK announcer describing the scene on March 11 as a huge tsunami washes away homes, fishing trawlers and vehicles in coastal communities.

But scientists are cautioning that a repeat for Japan - on a smaller scale - is not a matter of if, but when.

After analyzing the magnitude 9.0 quake, scientists in Japan and the United States are making that sobering conclusion.

Several studies indicate the descending Pacific Ocean plate and the overlying plate on which Japan sits, slipped past each other by up to 60 meters. The research indicates five portions of the fault - covering more than 600 kilometers - were ruptured in the quake. That forebodes more seismic activity.

And, because the March 11 quake seems to have transferred stress along the same fault, some scientists are cautioning about a magnitude 8.0 closer to the Tokyo metropolitan area, home to more than 30 million people.

However, others offer a wider geographical target, as far to the north as Hokkaido.

A frequently cited time frame, by some of Japan’s most senior seismologists, is between now and the next ten months.

However, professor Takeshi Sagiya at Nagoya University’s Research Center for Seismology, Volcanology and Disaster Mitigation is cautious about that narrow chronology.

"I'm not quite sure about the basis of those specific kind of prediction about aftershocks," said Sagiya. "Those aftershocks happening are quite variable from place to place, from time to time.  It can happen with a month, or within days, from the main shock.  But also it can happen within some decades."

Geophysicist Seth Stein of Northwestern University in the U.S. state of Illinois says the forecast intensity is in line with historical data but, like professor Sagiya, he is more comfortable expressing an extended timeline.

"They are thinking of the possibility you could have a magnitude eight, which makes sense.  The largest aftershocks of an earthquake over the years around the world we've observed tend to be about one magnitude unit less than the main shock, more likely within months, but it could be years."

Professor Sagiya of Nagoya University says the March 11 quake also “activated” inland faults.

"They may be not as large as magnitude eight, but because they occur just beneath our cities, our house, they can be quite disastrous," said Sagiya.

Professor Stein - a former editor of the Journal of Geophysical Research - agrees that as a result of the March 11 temblor - the fourth most powerful ever recorded - the quake risk has increased for Japan, one of the world’s most seismically active places.

"We sometimes use this analogy of a kid's game called 'booby trap' where you have a bunch of little blocks and there's a spring piston and it pushes on them. And, once you disturb one piece then you increase the possibility that the other pieces are going to be pushed and slip also," said Stein. "So if you think of Japan in that way you can realize that once you've had a huge earthquake of this sort there's a chance that a lot of faults could have smaller earthquakes."

Seismologists caution the public that their work is still an inexact science.  They note improvements for indicating where a big quake approximately will occur, but not when.

They also acknowledge that this year’s huge magnitude 9.0 was not anticipated, looking at the historical data.

That was also the case with the December 2004 earthquake off western Indonesia, which measured magnitude 9.3.

That prompted seismologists and geologists to re-examine the world’s subduction zones, areas where oceanic plates slide beneath either a continental plate or another oceanic plate.

Some of the researchers, analyzing fresh data, are now challenging the conventional thinking and willing to state that most, if not all, of the world’s subduction zones (more  than a dozen are recognized) are able to generate quakes equal to or exceeding magnitude 9.0.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs