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Mother Nature Roars Again

March 11, 2011

Rheanna Sand

At 14:46 local time today, residents in Japan experienced the strongest earthquake ever measured in their country. A 8.9-magnitude undersea quake hit just northwest of the coastal town of Sendai, killing at least 200 to 300 people and leaving many unaccounted for. A massive wall of mud carrying pieces of boats, cars, and even burning houses swept ashore, as shown in this dramatic piece of video.

 

 
The tremors could be felt across the country, even in Tokyo, about 450 km away from the epicenter. People reportedly poured out of office buildings and into the street to gaze up at the swaying, cracking skyscrapers.

The massive wall of water, however, seems to be the biggest threat - not only to Japanese citizens, but American and Canadian west coast residents as well. Richard Thomson, Senior Ocean Scientist at the Institute for Ocean Sciences in Sidney, BC, reports that some places will get waves over a meter from peak to trough, but adds that a place of more concern is Port Alberni. According to Thomson, the long, narrow channel leading to Port Alberni is "a place where the waves will resonate…the waves come in and they reflect back and build up and build up."

This is, ultimately, the greatest irony of the physics surrounding tsunamis: the shallower the water gets, the higher the waves become. The energy of the wave has to go somewhere, and if it has less area to in which to dissipate, the force is that much greater. The more energy put in to cause the wave, the more devastating the tsunami. The largest one ever recorded happened in Lituya Bay, off the coast of the Alaska Panhandle, in 1958. An 8.3 quake was followed by a rockslide, a fault movement, and collapsing glacial ice to create a wave that was an astounding 524 meters high - 29 meters shorter than the CN Tower. Amazingly, two fishing boats managed to ride out the epic wave.

Luckily, this tsunami won't reach such terrifying heights, but it will no doubt leave it's mark on the port city of Sendai and those unfortunate enough to lose loved ones in this disaster.

 

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