Tohoku Earthquake: A Horrible Disaster In Japan

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Japan is an island nation with a population that has a deep connection to the environment that surrounds and nourishes them. This environment has shaped the people of Japan in many ways. Japans history as been one that has been riddled with shows of the force of nature.

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The March 11th 2011 Tohoku earthquake has been the worst natural disaster in Japan and arguably one of the worlds most devastating natural disasters. This disaster was not just an earthquake, but also a tsunami set off by the earthquake and a nuclear meltdown set off by the tsunami. These three events combined make this the single worst event in Japanese history since WWII. To better understand the effect of the earthquake, one must have a basic knowledge of plate tectonics, the logarithmic scale used to rate earthquakes and how tsunamis work.        

To talk about the impact of this natural disaster is to talk about the geography of Japan and the tectonic plates it sits upon. Japan is classified as a volcanic archipelago, with three main mountainous arcs. The largest of these arcs is Japan proper, which includes the four main islands, Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, and many other smaller islands (Trewatha Pg. 3). The Kuril arc and the Ryukyu arc are made up of many small volcanic islands. The Kuril arc is located above the northern end of Japan proper, and the Ryukyu arc is located on the southern end of Japan proper (Trewatha Pg. 4).

The tectonic activity that is experienced in Japan can be explained by the interactions between the Eurasian, Amurian, Okhost, Pacific, and Philippine Sea plates (Taira Pg. 110). These plates are sections of the earths lithosphere, a solid layer of rock that constitutes the outer layer of the earth. This layer includes the crust and parts of the upper mantle. The lithosphere is broken up into a few large plates, and many more smaller plates. These plates sit on top of the asthenosphere, a viscous and mechanically weak layer that makes up the upper mantle. Convection currents in the asthenosphere move the tectonic plates causing them to bump into each other. The interaction of plates at their boundaries cause three types of movements. Deep under the oceans, plates can pull apart. This movement, called divergence, causes lava to rise up and create new rock at the plate boundaries. Plates can converge, where they come together. At a continental-continental boundary, formation of mountains occur. At an oceanic-oceanic boundary, deep ocean trenches are formed. At an oceanic-continental boundary, volcanic arcs can be created. Subduction zones are created at convergent boundaries, these are zones of major activity that creates the most powerful earthquakes. The final movement is when two plates slide past each other, called transformation. This movement creates friction that releases stored energy in the plates,

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