A2 Geography: Japanese Earthquake/Tsunami Report

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  • Created on: 25-03-13 20:23
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Assess the reasons why, despite Japan's high levels of technology and wealth the
impacts of the tectonic events of the 11th March 2011 were catastrophic.
A catastrophic disaster could be described as a "high-profile, large-scale incident that
threatens the lives of many people, creates tremendous damage, and poses significant
challenges to timely recovery efforts" (Bruce R. Lindsay 2011: CRS report for Congress.) The
impacts of the Sendai disaster can certainly be described as catastrophic however the death
toll of 28,000 was certainly unexpected as Japan is one of the world's most developed,
technologically advanced nations. The Japanese economy is the third largest in the world and
had a total GDP of $5.4 trillion in 2010, it is also one of the world leaders in Aseismic "life
safe" building construction and yet half a million people were still displaced from the
The earthquake in Sendai occurred on the
fault between the Pacific plate to the east
and the North American plate to the west
(see map, source: USGS). It is a destructive
plate margin with the Pacific plate
subducting underneath the North American
plate. At 2.46 pm (Japanese time) one of the
most powerful earthquakes in Japan's
history (magnitude 9) with a duration of 6
minutes caused the fault line to rupture
along several 100km of Pacific plate off the coast of Japan. This was an extremely rare event.
It was the world's largest earthquake since 2004 and 400X more powerful than Christchurch
(2011) ­ the epicentre was 180km away from the East coast of Japan and it also had a very
shallow focus (depth of 32km.) A 10 metre tsunami wave was generated in minutes and
travelled at 50kmph, hitting 1300 miles of coastline and travelling up to 10km inland (see
map of wave heights, source: USGS). The waves inundated more than 500 square kilometres
of land across six
destroying nearly
130,000 buildings
and damaging
245,000 others,
despite many of
them supposedly
being `life-safe'.
Japan has a very high
level of preparedness for large earthquakes and tsunamis, but not of this scale and
magnitude. The earthquake warning system did automatically issue alerts via television and
mobile phones shortly after the first shock wave was detected, providing time for many

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Senior citizens and very young children tend to be less mobile and
therefore less able to respond quickly in an evacuation. 40% of Japan's coastline had 12
metre sea walls from past flooding and also tsunami detection buoys in the Pacific sent
warnings to many nations, over 20 implemented evacuation programmes. Although the
warning systems did save thousands of lives, many people were killed due to the failure of
defences which may have given people
a false sense of security.…read more

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However the waves at the plant were 7
and a half metres high and therefore
overtopped the sea wall, they simply
weren't expecting a disaster at this scale
and magnitude. The cooling system soon
went down which resulted in the reactors
overheating, there was a gas explosion
which released radioactive elements into
the atmosphere. The plant was 240km away from Tokyo however many fled the country with
fears of a Chernobyl sized disaster.…read more


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