Science behind Japan earthquake and Tsunami

Question 1: Why no impact on China… see map above

Powerful Japan quake won’t affect Chinese mainland “obviously”: seismological official

BEIJING, March 11 (Xinhua) — The powerful earthquake that hit Japan Friday afternoon will not affect the Chinese mainland “obviously,” though tremors were felt in parts of Beijing, top Chinese seismological official Chen Jianmin told Xinhua Friday.

“But most parts of the Pacific region should keep vigilant against a tsunami triggered by the quake,” said Chen, director of the China Earthquake Administration, on the sidelines of the annual parliamentary session in Beijing.

The 8.6-magnitude quake hit Japan’s northeastern Honshu island at 2:46 p.m. local time with a depth of about 20 km, according to China Earthquake Networks Center.

The U.S. Geological Survey earlier put the quake at 7.9 magnitude but later upgraded it to 8.9 magnitude. The Japan Meteorological Agency revised the magnitude of the quake from 7.9 to a magnitude of 8.4.

Chen said the Chinese public need not panic as Japan’s quake zone and the Chinese mainland are separated by a sea area and the quake will not affect the Chinese mainland obviously.

Nevertheless, small tremors were felt in some downtown areas and suburban districts of Beijing Friday afternoon.

Some residents in several high-rise apartment buildings in northeastern part of Beijing even rushed out of their buildings for safety concerns.

A 5.8-magnitude quake jolted Yingjiang County of southwest China’s Yunnan Province near the border with Myanmar Thursday afternoon, leaving at least 25 people dead and 250 others injured.

Question 2: Why Japan‘s Tsunami Triggered Enormous Whirlpool

The tsunami that hit northern Japan today created an enormous whirlpool in a harbor off the east coast of that country. According to researchers, whirlpools aren’t unusual after waves of this size.

The tsunami was triggered by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of Japan at 2:46 p.m. Tokyo time. Video footage shows a boat swirling in the massive eddy. It’s not known whether anyone was on the vessel.

Based on eye-witness accounts and video in recent years, whirlpools probably occur with some regularity after large tsunamis, said Ruth Ludwin, a retired seismologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“Whirlpools have a big impact on the human imagination,” Ludwin said. “They’re very notable and very frightening. But from the perspective of the geological record, they don’t leave any particular sign that has been recognized so far.”

Whirlpools happen because of the interaction between rushing water and the geology of the coastline and seafloor, Ludwin said.

“Obviously there is a lot of water that is being pushed around, and it is interacting with the shape, the bathymetry, near the coastline,” she said. [Album: Monster Waves]

“When a tsunami impacts the shoreline, some water overtops the shoreline and advances on the dry land in a manner somehow similar to a dam break wave,” Hubert Chanson, a professor of hydraulic engineering and applied fluid mechanics at the University of Queensland in Australia, told LiveScience. “This was seen during the December 2004 tsunami in Indonesia and Thailand, as well as on Friday, 11 March 2011 in Japan. At the same time, the impact of the tsunami waters on the coastline induces some very intense turbulent motion, and, with a suitable bathymetry, a large whirlpool may develop.”

The first images and videos of post-tsunami whirlpools came out of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Ludwin said. But eyewitness accounts from previous coastal quakes suggest that tsunami whirlpools are nothing new. One was reported in the great Lisbon earthquake of 1775, Ludwin said. The Haida people of the Queen Charlotte Islands off the coast of British Columbia have myths about a whirling wave of foam.

Apela Colorado, Ludwin’s colleague with the Worldwide Indigenous Science Network in Hawaii, has identified a petroglyph in southeastern Alaska that seems to show a whirlpool in the body of a sea monster. In an abstract presented at the 2006 meeting of the Seismological Society of America, Colorado and Ludwin describe the native myths about that monster. According to ancient tales, they wrote, the creature “inundates canoes, makes the salt-water boil, swallows fishermen, pushes fish into a cave, and creates a canoe passage by flopping across a spit.”

You can follow LiveScience Senior Writer Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s