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Teachable Moment:

The Layered Earth makes it easy to capture student attention by examining the geological forces at work behind current events. Here we assemble some useful tools for teaching current events in the classroom.

Japanese Earthquake & Tsunami

On Friday, March 11, 2011, Japan experienced a catastrophic earthquake at 2:46:23 pm local time (12:46:23 am EST). The earthquake occurred off the coast of the island of Honshu, approximately 80 miles (129 km) east of the community of Sendai. The 9.0 Richter magnitude earthquake and the resulting tsunami have provoked the largest crisis that Japan has encountered since the end of World War II. The Honshu earthquake was the world's fourth largest earthquake since 1900 and the largest in Japan since modern instrumental recordings began 130 years ago. About 1,500 earthquakes strike the island nation every year. Minor tremors occur on a nearly daily basis.

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Pictorial Lesson: Japanese Earthquake, Cause and Effects

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  • 010_Ring%20Of%20Fire Ring of Fire
    The Honshu earthquake occurred in an area known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. The Ring of Fire is a broad band around most of the Pacific. This region contains over three-quarters of the world's volcanoes and accounts for 90% of the world's earthquakes.
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  • 01_Tectonic%20Plates Tectonic Plates
    The rigid outer shell of the Earth, called the lithosphere, is broken up into many rigid segments of different sizes and shapes.
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  • 04_Tectonic%20Plates%20Velocity Tectonic Plate Velocity
    These rigid segments, called plates, are in fluid motion relative to each other. Speed vectors show that the Pacific plate is the fastest moving on the Earth's surface.
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  • 05_Tectonic%20Plates%20Strain%20Rate Plate Strain
    As the giant plates move tremendous energies are unleashed along their borders, resulting in tremors that transform Earth's surface.
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  • 02_Tectonic%20Plates%20Shaded Japan & Tectonic Plates
    Japan sits on the boundaries of four tectonic plates; the Pacific plate, the Philippine plate, the Okhotsk plate and the Eurasian plate.
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  • 03_Tectonic%20Plates%20Arrows Tectonic Plate Motion
    The March 11, 2011 Honshu earthquake was caused by the Pacific plate sliding under the Okhotsk plate at a convergent boundary. A convergent boundary represents an area where two plates are moving toward one another, or converging.
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  • 012_tilted%20shaded%20with%20earthquakes The Japan Trench
    The movement of the Pacific plate under the Okhotsk plate has resulted in the formation at the plate boundaries of a deep oceanic trench known as the Japan Trench. The Japan Trench has a maximum depth of 9,000 m (19,500 ft).
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  • 023_Earthquake_Shake_Map.jpg Earthquake Shaking Intensity
    A shake map for the Honshu earthquake.  A shake map shows ground movement and shaking intensity for an earthquake.  Notice how the shaking intensity of the earthquake was higher near the earthquake epicenter (yellow star marker).  Several nuclear power plants (triangle markers) are located in areas that experienced severe shaking.
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  • 06_Epicenter_Nuclear_Plants_Volcano%20Locations Epicenter & Aftershocks
    Japan has continued to experience a large number of smaller earthquakes following the catastrophic March 11 earthquake.
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  • 07_Epicenter_Nuclear_Plants_Volcano%20Tilted Aftershocks & Magnitude
    These smaller, subsequent earthquakes are known as aftershocks. They may substantially extend the damage and reach of the original quake, and may last for weeks, months or years.
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  • 011_Magnitude%20dots%20with%20nuclear%20plants Magnitude & Plants
    The location of the Onagawa, Fukushima Daiichi, Fukushima Daini and Tokai nuclear power plants are highlighted with triangular markers. A star indicates the epicenter of the March 11 earthquake. Red represents magnitude 6+ aftershocks, yellow shows magnitude 5-6 aftershocks and green is aftershocks of less than magnitude 5.
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  • 017_Earth_Tilt_Rotation Effect on Earth's Rotation
    The Honshu earthquake was so powerful that the island of Honshu moved 2.4 meters to the east. This slight shift in the Earth's mass has resulted in a slight increase to the Earth's speed of rotation by 1.6 microseconds, thereby fractionally shortening the length of the Earth's day.
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  • 09_Tsunami%20DART%20bouys Tsunami DART buoys
    A worldwide series of early-warning sensors known as DART buoys (Deep Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis), provided advance warning for tsunamis.
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  • 021_Tsunami_Warning_Wave_Height Tsunami Wave Height
    On March 11, 2011 a tsunami warning was issued for Japan. The areas highlighted in red represent an estimated tsunami wave height of 3 meters or more.
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  • 08_Tsunami%20Energy%20Map.xtle Tsunami Energy Map
    The estimated tsunami wave heights in the Pacific basin; dark colors indicate where the force of the tsunami was directed.
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  • 020_Tsunami_Travel_Time_Globe Tsunami Travel Time Map
    The tsunami travel-time map shows, in hours, how long it took the March 11th tsunami to travel through the Pacific Basin.
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  • 019_Tsunami_Travel_Time_Flat Mercador Tsunami Map
    This mercador projection shows, in hours, how long it took the March 11th tsunami to travel through the Pacific Basin.
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  • 016_Japan%20on%20Feb%2022%202011%20with%20nuclear%20and%20sendai%20city Japan & Sendai City
    Coastal areas of Japan, including the city of Sendai, suffered catastrophic damage from a 10-meter (33 foot) high tsunami.
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  • 013_tilted%20shaded%20along%20fault%20line Fault Lines
    The Fukushimi nuclear power stations were both heavily damaged by the tsunami. The northern station, Fukushimi Daiichi, has provoked particular concern due to damaged backup cooling systems needed to remove heat from the reactor's radioactive fuel.
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  • 022_Daiichi_Evacuation_Area Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant
    Japanese government officials have informed people living within 20 kilometers of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant to evacuate, and people within 30 kilometers to stay indoors.
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  • 014_shinmoedake%20volcano Shinmoedake Volcano
    On March 13, 2011, the Shinmoedake volcano in southern Japan erupted (seen as a yellow volcano icon). In addition to earthquakes, colliding plates can also form new volcanoes or build up old ones. Whether there is a link between the March 11 earthquake and the March 13 eruption is not certain.
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  • 015_shinmoedake%20volcano%20closeup Shinmoedake Volcano Closeup
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Educational Interactives: Earthquake Fault Types & Tsunamis

Our interactive demonstration of The Layered Earth Geology and Earth Science Software will not run with your current setup. You may need to install or activate Javascript or Flash.

The Honshu earthquake occurred along a thrust fault; demonstrate tectonic plate interaction and earthquake fault types with this interactive simulation.

Our interactive demonstration of The Layered Earth Geology and Earth Science Software will not run with your current setup. You may need to install or activate Javascript or Flash.

Teach the mechanisms behind Japan's tsunami with this hands-on, interactive simulation.


Watch & Learn

The Effect of Japan's Earthquake on Earth's Rotation.

Learn how and why the March 11th, 2011 earthquake in Japan shortened the length of our day.

Why Japan? Earthquake Causes and Effects.

Explore the Ring of Fire, Plate Tectonics & Tsunamis.