Japan Struck By Massive Quake and Tsunami

March 11th, 2011 -- Posted in Earthquakes, Tsunami | No Comments »

by Victoria M. Johnson

At 2:46 pm a magnitude 8.9 earthquake rocked Japan. This is Japan’s largest quake on record, and one of the largest ever recorded in the world. The epicenter was 231 miles northeast of Tokyo. The quake triggered a 32-foot tsunami that pummeled Japan’s eastern coast, killing hundreds of people as it swept away everything in its path. In the cities closest to the epicenter, Sendai and Honshu, hundreds of bodies were found with over 500 people reported missing and 627 people injured.

Aftermath of Earthquake and Tsunami

More than 50 aftershocks have been recorded, with tremors reaching as far as Tokyo. The photos of the region show catastrophic devastation. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a tsunami warning has been issued for parts of the U.S. West Coast in addition to the earlier warning for Hawaii and the western Pacific islands. A 7-foot tsunami reached Hawaii at 9:00 am but did not cause major damage. Officials warned that the waves could get larger. A magnitude 7.3 struck this area of Japan two days ago, causing no damage.

New Zealand Earthquake Update

February 25th, 2011 -- Posted in Earthquakes | No Comments »

Crumbled concrete, twisted metal and mounds of brick still lay scattered across Christchurch, New Zealand. About 250 buildings and 341 homes have been deemed unsafe by investigators. But amid the reports of devastation, the worse news is the rising death toll. According to the New Zealand Herald, the official number of deaths for the Christchurch earthquake has risen to 145, and more than 200 people remain missing.

Collapsed building after the earthquake

Today (Saturday, Feb 26 in New Zealand) there have been 16 earthquakes, ranging from 2.0 to 4.1 magnitude. And on Friday afternoon two violent aftershocks, measuring 4.4 and 3.3 sent more masonry crashing down, distressing the nerves of rescuers and survivors in Christchurch. On day 5 of the Christchurch quake, hope of finding more survivors in the rubble is fading.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reported that there were about 600 unreinforced masonry structures in Christchurch and that the majority of them suffered some damage during Tuesday’s quake. However, California has about 7,800 such buildings in high-seismic zones. A sizable quake on any of California’s known faults could cause major damage. Then there are all the unidentified faults in Southern California. The Christchurch quake occurred on a previously unidentified fault system.

New Zealand Earthquake

February 22nd, 2011 -- Posted in Earthquakes | No Comments »

According to the USGS, the quake striking near Christchurch, New Zealand today was of magnitude 6.3. At a depth of 3.1 miles, the quake has already claimed 65 lives. And the city is still being hit by numerous aftershocks. This is a much shallower depth then the quake that struck the region in September. A 7.1 earthquake struck the city then.

New Zealand Earthquake

With residents already on edge, this quake has caused many to panic. The Christian Science Monitor reports collapsed buildings and major damage to downtown buildings including the Christchurch Cathedral. Christchurch is the country’s second largest city, where about 26,000 employees work full-time. The Daily Mail reported, “The quake was caused by the continuing collision between the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates, said Professor Mark Quigley, of Canterbury University.” New Zealand records more than 14,000 earthquakes a year, but only about 150 are felt by residents. Fewer than ten a year do any damage.

Nine Deadly Facts About Tsunamis

February 18th, 2011 -- Posted in Natural Disasters, Tsunami | No Comments »

The devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami claimed over 200,000 lives. It struck without warning to the victims caught in the disaster zone.  But tsunamis actually give many warning signals to those monitoring the oceans.  Sadly, the Indian Ocean did not have such monitoring systems.

A Child in Front of the Rubble That Was Her Home

1. Earthquakes, eruptions, and other major disturbances (such as a meteor impact) beneath the sea can cause tsunamis.

2. Tsunamis travel across oceans and build into enormous walls of water as they approach coastal lands.

3. Tsunami wavelengths in the deep ocean travel about 500 miles per hour.

4. Tsunamis generally pass unnoticed on the ocean surface.

5. Sometimes, the first part of a tsunami is a “drawback” where the sea drastically recedes from the shore. This is a deadly warning to get to higher ground.

6. The first wave may not be the largest wave to come.

7. A large tsunami may trigger numerous waves arriving over a period of hours, with considerable time between wave crests.

8. Tsunamis as high as 100 feet crashed into the surrounding islands after the cataclysmic eruption of Krakatoa, Indonesia, killing 36,000 people. But according to National Geographic News, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami is the deadliest tsunami in history.

9. It is not possible to prevent a tsunami.

Make Your Own Volcano

January 31st, 2011 -- Posted in Volcanoes | No Comments »

Whether for a science fair or for an earth science class, the school project all kids look forward to is to make their own volcano. I remember having a tall stratovolcano in mind, and being horribly embarrassed by my flat-as-a-pancake shield volcano. My volcano was all the more wretched by the fact that red molten lava didn’t spew out of it like some of the other kid’s projects did.

Kids With Their Volcano

But what an exciting time that was at school. I learned about the different kinds of volcanoes, how volcanoes are created, what our planet is like inside, and the effects of volcanic eruptions. Kids even talked about volcanoes at recess. That didn’t happen at any other time of the year. I’ve included some links for you to help your child with their important science project, lest they end up like me. Click here for steps to learn how to make your own volcano. Click here to see how to make your volcano erupt.

The Day the World Ended

January 22nd, 2011 -- Posted in Earthquakes, Natural Disasters, Volcanoes | No Comments »

If you’re at all like me, you enjoy watching disaster films. Asteroid collisions, volcanic eruptions, mega earthquakes, are all events I love to see (fictionalized—not the real thing). Today the Syfy Channel has a disaster film marathon. With movies like NYC Tornado Terror, Category 6: Day of Destruction, Megafault, and Volcano: Nature Unleashed, scientists and regular citizens scramble to prevent the ultimate disaster that will end the world. In these films earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or extreme weather systems threaten the world as we know it.

Earthquake Fault

I examined what it is I love so much about these kinds of movies and here’s what I discovered. There are people out there who dedicate their lives to studying our planet—disaster films give them the recognition they deserve—as it is often their expertise that saves mankind. The threat of disaster or dealing with the aftermath of the disaster brings people together, giving a sense of hope for the future, that facing the worst the planet has in store for us, we will survive. I also like that sense of survival that comes out in these films, people have to use their wits to stay alive, they have to step up and be brave and do whatever it takes to live. Another thing I enjoy is the often thought-provoking question that many of these films ask. What about you? Share your thoughts on this topic.

The Worst Disasters of 2010

December 23rd, 2010 -- Posted in Earthquakes, Natural Disasters, Volcanoes | No Comments »

2010 has proved to be the deadliest year for natural disasters. This year alone, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, and landslides have killed a quarter of a million people.

Haiti Earthquake

It started on January 12, when Haiti’s devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake killed more than 230,000 people and left more than 1 million people homeless. On February 27, a massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck Chile, killing more than 500 people. That quake also generated a tsunami that further incapacitated the region. March brought about the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Melted ice from the glacier caused floods that led to the evacuation of 800 Icelanders, and volcanic ash forced the closure of air flights that stranded hundreds of thousands of travelers. On April 14, a 6.9 magnitude quake rocked Yushu, China, killing 3,000 people and injuring more than 12,0000. May 27 and 29 hit Guatemala hard. Pacaya volcano erupted first. Two days later a tropical storm caused destructive landslides. July brought devastating floods to Pakistan, killing about 2,000 people and affecting millions more. In August, China’s Gansu Province experienced massive mudslides that killed 1,500 people. And in October, Indonesia endured both a tsunami and the eruption of Mount Merapi volcano. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated and 350 people were killed. As we reflect on the enormous loss of life, we can only hope that Mother Nature is kinder to us in 2011.

15 Earthquakes Strike in One Day!

July 9th, 2010 -- Posted in Earthquakes | No Comments »

On July 9th, 2010–today–15 earthquakes struck across the globe. From a 2.8 in the Los Angeles area of California, to a 5.2 in the Sunda Strait, Indonesia. The Taiwan region experienced a 5.3 tremblor while a 5.1 rocked Sakhalin, Russia. A small 2.9 hit Southern Alaska but a 4.8 shook up Papua New Guinea. The remaining 8 quakes from all across the planet included the Western Indian Antarctic Ridge.

With all this seismic activity is the world’s scientific community in a panic? Are we in danger of ‘the big one’ striking next? Is the world coming to an end? These are burning questions that I wanted answers to. As it turns out, 15 quakes in the same day is ho-hum news. The USGS says up to 200 quakes a day is not an anomoly and 15 is nothing to panic about.

Mount St. Helens 30 Years Ago

May 18th, 2010 -- Posted in Volcanoes | No Comments »

Mount St. Helens eruption

May 18, 1980 was a day we will all never forget. Who expected the beautiful mountain, where thousands hiked and camped each year, could unleash such deadly force? The Weather Channel commemorates the catastrophic eruption in an anniversary slideshow.

In case you don’t remember the powerful forces released that day, here’s some numbers to think about. A magnitude 5.1 earthquake preceded the collapse of the mountain peak. Pyroclastic  flows wiped out everything in it’s path including 250 miles of forest land and raised Spirit Lake’s water level by 200 feet. 520 million tons of ash swept across the country. 57 people died and over 200 homes were destroyed in the worst volcanic disaster in the United States.

The USGS had been monitoring Mount St. Helens for months. USGS volcanologist David Johnston reported the eruption, but he was one of those who lost their life that day. Still, scientists learned much from the eruption, from data they had never collected before, from a volcano they had been studying prior to the eruption, and a volcano they continue to study today.

Earthquakes in the Middle Ages

May 14th, 2010 -- Posted in Earthquakes | No Comments »


I read a recent blog post over at Medieval Minds about Catalonia earthquakes of the XIV and XV centuries. Author Ann Scott, who is a medieval historian, sites a book, Historical Seismology, that features a study of the Catalonia (NE Spain) quakes. The study, which concluded in 2006, was conducted to evaluate the potential seismic hazard and to evaluate the quakes using standardized criteria. The findings were reported at the First European Conference on Earthquake Engineering and Seismologythe same year in Geneva, Switzerland. In the XIV and XV centuries, only eight earthquakes of magnitude 5.0 or higher occurred, with the largest at magnitude 6.5 occurring in 1428.

I wasn’t sure why the study was barely taking place in 2006, but as I thought about Scott’s post, I was reminded of the value of scientists studying the seismic history of a region. While earthquakes can’t be predicted yet, research provides fault history and field analysis that helps geologists estimate earthquake probabilities. Armed with evidence of a probability of a large quake, scientists and authorities are better able to convince citizens to prepare themselves.

Wall Street Journal Charts Largest Volcano Eruptions

May 8th, 2010 -- Posted in Volcanoes | No Comments »

Pelee Volcano

Last month the Wall Street Journal produced an interactive graphic to show the major volcanic eruptions within the past 200 years. I noticed a major volcanic eruption missing from the cool timeline and I was ready to call the Wall Street Journal to report their mistake. Surely Mount Pelée’s eruption in 1902 was omitted in error. That eruption on the pristine Caribbean island of Martinique killed more than 30,000 people. Pyroclystic flows, volcanic gases, and ash from the stratovolcano completely destroyed the town of Saint-Pierre, the largest city of Martinique.

Before I picked up my phone I referred to my notes, and the USGS web site, of course. And sure enough Mount Pelée’s eruption, even though it is considered the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century, only has a VEI of 4. How could that be? The USGS themselves say the Mount Pelée eruption was very small, producing only about 3 percent of the volume of ash ejected during the May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

With the VEI measuring only Magnitude (measures the amount of lava produced), and Intensity (measures how fast the lava is produced), some of the most destructive eruptions have not been “very large.” It’s no wonder that some scientists are arguing for a change in the VEI to add other measurements such as levels of destruction and loss of life.