Der Spiegel here gives us a good idea of the scale and magnitude of Japan’s massive Sendai earthquake, which weighed in at 9.0 on the Richter scale. It ought to remind some of us of nature’s fury and that we are powerless to steer it.
The earthquake occurred in the western Pacific Ocean, 130 km (81 mi) east of Sendai, Honshu, Japan. Its epicenter was 373 km (232 mi) from Tokyo, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
The earthquake opened up a 400 km long gash in the ocean floor, releasing a surface energy of 1.9×1017 joules (according to the USGS). The total energy released underground was about 205,000 times that on the surface.
This energy is equivalent to about 9.32 teratons of TNT, or approximately 600 million Hiroshima bombs, or about 80 years of global energy usage, estimated to be 4.74×1020 joules for the year of 2008 [Wikipedia]. That’s arguably more energy than what all of mankind has ever used so far.
Earth gets a facelift
All that energy gave the surface of the globe a facelift, literally. Wikipedia writes:
According to Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, the earthquake’s enormous strength shifted the Earth’s axis by 25 centimeters (9.8 in). This deviation led a number of small changes, including those to the length of a day and the tilt of the Earth. The speed of the Earth’s rotation increased, shortening the day by 1.6 microseconds due to the redistribution of Earth’s mass.
A report by the U.S. Geological Survey said that Honshu, the main island of Japan, was shifted 2.4 m (7.9 ft) toward the east. Researcher Lucy Jones said of the precise data, “The Japanese have the best seismic information in the world… This is overwhelmingly the best-recorded great earthquake ever.”
Der Spiegel lists the top 11 earthquakes measured since 1900; location, year and strength:
1. Valdivia, Chile – 1960 – 9.5
2. Prince William Sound, Alaska – 1964 – 9.2
3. West Sumatra – 2004 – 9.1
4. Japan -2011 – 9.0
5. Kamtschatka – 1952 – 9.0
6. Chile – 2010 – 8.8
7. Ecuador – 1906 – 8.8
8. Rat Islands, Alaska – 1965 – 8.7
9. North Sumatra – 2005 – 8.6
10. Assam – 1950 – 8.6
11. South Sumatra – 1957 – 8.6
Strangely these events are bunched in the 1950s – 60s and the 2000s.
The Sendai earthquake has also unleashed of tsunami of hysteria here in Germany, where many media outlets are busy quoting organizations like Greenpeace on the risks of atomic power. The earthquake obviously has driven another nail into nuclear energy’s coffin in Germany, having galvanised opposition even more. So forget nuclear energy in Germany in the future. The results of the upcoming state elections will show this.
UPDATE: Some of the earthquake energy data I mentioned above came from Wikipedia, and has mysteriously disappeared from their site.