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The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake Term Paper

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Updated: May 11th, 2020

The Great East Japan Earthquake happened on March 11, 2011 as a triple disaster. The earthquake was accompanied by a great tsunami given the high magnitude of the earthquake that reached 9.0 on the Ritcher scale.

The third disaster was the meltdown of a number of nuclear plants following the tsunami. Japan had never been hit by such a devastating earthquake before. Its effects were so immense that the tsunami that accompanied it spread as far as Antarctica. Moreover, the debris of the tsunami appears offshore in North America up to today (Oskin par. 2).

The Tohoku earthquake of 2011 occurred in a subduction zone. The subduction zone is the area where the tectonic plates slide over one another as illustrated in figure 1. The hotter side of one of the plates goes beneath the earth’s crust. An earthquake occurs because of slipping of the plates once they stick together. This is what happened during the 2011 Tohoku earthquake (Tate par. 1). The earthquake fault at Tohoku is characterized by two forms of patches.

Some patches of the fault slide smoothly, while others stick. Moreover, the Pacific plate goes beneath the Eurasian plate. A lot of pressure had built up over many centuries below these plates. There was a rupture in the fault, leading to the release of the built up pressure. There was a quick shift in the fault’s deeper part. However, the shallow part shifted at a slower pace during the subduction process.

The sliding of the continental plate over the Pacific Ocean plate happened over a distance of about 80 meters. The earthquake occurred as a result of release of the build up pressure. The sea floor ended up being lifted by about 10 meters after the earthquake, causing the seawater to be displaced vertically (Tate par. 2). This resulted in a tsunami that spread from the epicenter of the earthquake as shown in figure 1.

The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Source: Tate (par. 1)

The Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 occurred at a depth of 15.2 miles in a duration of about six minutes. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake had an epicenter of about 80 miles in Sendai City that is in Tohoku region. The powerful earthquake led to a shift of the Earth by about 10-25 centimeters on its axis.

There was a shortening of the day by duration of about a microsecond (Oskin par. 3). In addition, there was a 2.4 meters shift of the island of Honshu to the east. A series of aftershocks hit Japan later, with the first day after the tragedy seeing at least 50 aftershocks.

To date, more than one thousand aftershocks have hit Japan. The aftershocks have been strong enough to trigger tsunamis given that the least aftershock recorded is magnitude of 6.3. There was a slide in the Pacific plate by about 24 meters to the west close to the epicenter. The seismic waves reached the Antarctica and jolted the Whillans Ice Stream by approximately 0.5 meters. Moreover, there was a 2 foot drop in the Honshu coastline.

The coastlines of Tohoku and the south of Hokkaido were hit by a severe tsunami following the earthquake. The tsunami was as high as 38 meters and its effects spread further inland to a distance of more than 500 km. The tsunami is said to have led to most of the more than 15,848 deaths that were caused by the earthquake. Approximately 300,000 people remain internally displaced following the earthquake and the tsunami.

Among the worst effects of the earthquake, other than the loss of lives, was the destruction of the nuclear plants. Some nuclear plants like the Fukushima Daiichi underwent a meltdown of level 7 due to malfunctioning of the cooling systems (Oskin par. 4). The radioactive substances from the nuclear plants spread into the environment, with water contamination being the most evident nuclear contamination up to today.

The health care system and the health statuses of individuals in Japan were shaken immensely following the earthquake tragedy. There was total destruction of at least 3 hospitals in the Itwate Prefecture (Nohara par. 14).

A study conducted by Yamanda et al. (par. 5) revealed that the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred in a society that was largely characterized by an aging population. Consequently, high numbers of the elderly were admitted with respiratory diseases like pneumonia due to the harsh living conditions they experienced following the disaster. Utilities like water and electric power were halted. It took time to restore these utilities.

Transportation in the coastal areas came to a standstill. The economy suffered at least $360 billion directed towards the disaster, making the economy of Japan continue to perform dismally since the disaster. For instance, it is estimated that trade deficits amounted to 78 billion dollars in 2012 (Ferris and Solis par. 2).

The Fukushima nuclear disaster that followed the tsunami triggered the formation of a citizen movement that advocated for an end to nuclear power production. The earthquake also unified the Japanese as they came to the rescue of those affected. Volunteerism, especially through NGOS, was also sparked by the disaster (Ferris and Solis par. 3).

In addition, the government of Japan established stricter rules to oversee the safety of nuclear power plants. These restrictions have seen Japan’s economy suffer immensely because it mainly relies on nuclear power.

Works Cited

Ferris, E., and Mireya S. “Brookings. 2013. Web.

Nohara, M. “Impact of the Great East Japan Earthquake And Tsunami On Health, Medical Care and Public Health Systems In Iwate Prefecture, Japan, 2011.” Western Pacific Surveillance and Response Journal 2.4 (2011). Web.

Oskin, B. “Live Science. 2013. Web.

Tate, K. “Live Science. 2013. Web.

Yamanda, Shinsuke, Masakazu Hanagama Seiichi Kobayashi, Hikari Satou, Shinsaki Tokuda, Kaijun Niu, and Masaru Yanai. “BMJ Open 3(2013). Web.

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