2011 Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami - causes and effects

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Thomas Aird

2011 Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami

At 14:46 (local time) on 11 March 2011 magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck 70km off the coast of Japan. The epicentre of the quake was 32km down with the main shock lasting for over five minutes. Due to the intensity of the earthquake, it was felt across almost the whole of Japan, being the most powerful earthquake to ever hit Japan. Also, the fact that such a large earthquake happened at sea meant a devastating tsunami ensued.


Due to Japan lying on the boundary between two major plates (Eurasian and Pacific), it receives earthquakes quite frequently. This specific earthquake was caused when the Eurasian plate is dragged down by the Pacific plate until the pressure is too great and the plate ‘unzips’. This causes a massive displacement of the water at the epicentre sending large amounts of water thrusted towards land. While the plates settled back down again, over 1,000 aftershocks were caused, some happening weeks after the initial shock.

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Although the earthquake was very large, its positioning and Japan’s high standard building prevented the earthquake from doing considerable damage. The majority of the damage was caused by the ensuing tsunami.

The total death toll is believed to be around 15,800 with almost 6,000 injured and 3,800 missing. Although Japan spends billions of dollars on anti-tsunami sea walls, the tsunami simply washed over the top of some seawalls, collapsing a few in the process. Over 45,000 buildings were destroyed by the disaster including 11 hospitals as well as 230,000 vehicles being damaged or destroyed by the tsunami. All ...

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