Tag Archives: Update

Kyushu Earthquake, Mt Aso and the Relationship between Volcanoes and Earthquakes.


In the past week the Japanese Island of Kysushu has be ravaged by earthquakes.

2016-04-16Japan is a highly seismic area with noticeable quakes in some areas occurring nearly daily.  But things began to escalate for the Kyushu region on Thursday night when a magnitude 6.5 quake brought several buildings down. As rescue efforts began the region had two more huge after shocks during the night, one over Mg 6 and the other > Mg 5. By midday Friday the death toll stood at 9 with over 800 injured and although the aftershocks kept coming many >Mg 4 people were still being pulled from the rubble. Sadly these events were quite possibly a precursor to something larger.

At 01.25 local time (15.25 GMT) a Mg 7.3 struck just north of Kumamoto just kilometers from the large earthquakes which had already occurred. Much of the seismicity in the Kyushu region is related to the subduction of the Philippine Sea plate at great depth. However this series of earthquakes have occurred at very shallow depths several hundred kilometers northwest of the Ryukyu Trench. They have been cause by strike-slip faulting within the Eurasian plate.

Quake damaged houses in Kumamoto, Japan (16 April 2016)So far 22 more people have been reported dead but this is expected to rise in the coming days with at least 80 people known to betrapped in rubble. 11 of which are trapped in a Tokai university apartment in the town of Minami Aso.


The shallowness of the earthquakes means damage to the surface is high and it is not just collapsing building which are a hazard. People have fled the area down stream of a dam which collapsed soon after the earthquake. Landslides in the area have taken out roads and power lines and with heavy rain anticipated over the coming days JMA have advised mudslides will be a huge problem for rescuers.







The seismic problems of Kyushu may have also set in motion another geohazard in the form of Mt Aso. Yesterday one of my favorite volcanology bloggers Eric Klemetti tweeted “Quite a few volcanoes on Kyushu and these earthquakes have been centered near Unzen, Aso, Kirishima. This is NOT to say these earthquakes will trigger any eruptions, but could be worth watching over the next year.” Several hours late JMA reported a small scale eruption at Aso. Smoke plumes have migrated 100 meters above the summit and it is not yet clear if the activity is magmatic (caused by movement of magma towards the surface) or phreatic (steam explosion caused by heating of groundwater).

Eruptions and earthquakes do not always come hand in hand but each one can contribute to the other or not at all depending on the circumstances. One indication a volcano is about to erupt is volcanic tremors; these low frequency earthquakes are usually caused by the migration of magma or changes to magma chamber. Although they are rarely higher than a magnitude 4. On the other side large earth quakes can cause faulting in bed rock which allows magma to exploit a new weakness and find a path to the surface it previously could not intrude on. The same can happen for ground water with faulting caused by a quake allowing it to seep in to geothermal areas it previously did not have access to due to the impermeability of the rock. When earthquakes hit volcanic regions volcano observatories always keep a closer eye on vulnerable or highly active volcanoes as a precaution but it is not always needed.


The Aso Caldera complex has one of the world’s largest calderas. It is comprised of a 25 km north-south by 18 km east-west Caldera and a central cone group comprised of Mt. Neko, Mt. Taka, Mt. Naka, Mt. Eboshi, and Mt. Kishima. Mt Naka where the eruption has just taken place is the most active with its most recent eruption taking place last October. Although much of Aso’s activity in the past century has been relatively small it has had a violent history with at least 4 VEI 7 events in the past 300,000 years.

It’s is not clear whether the earthquakes in the past few days did trigger the current current eruption but JMA are keeping a close eye on the situation and I will update this page as I know more.



Figure 1. http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/map/

Figure 2; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-36061657

Figure 3; http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/japan-earthquakes-dozens-reported-dead-injured-second-quake-two-days-a6986931.html

Figure 4; http://mashable.com/2016/04/15/japan-earthquake-landslide-photos/

Today in Geological History; March 11th – Tōhoku Earthquake & Tsunami



article-0-0D924D9F000005DC-785_964x591.jpgI am pretty sure I have covered this event before but seeing as today marks the 5 year anniversary of one of the worst natural disasters in the past decade I thought it deserves a much more in depth look. The events of March 11th destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and claimed the lives of nearly 20,000. For me, it opened my eyes to a world of geohazards and mad me realized this was something I wanted to study and understand so such loss of life would not happen again.

There are three elements to the events of March 11th that I am going to look at here; the earthquake, the tsunami and the Fukushima power plant. Each aspect a huge disaster in on there own but interlinked as they were caused devastation for Japan. 

The Earthquake

Instrumental Intensity Image

Japan is a volcanic island which stretches along where the North American, Pacific, Eurasian and Philippine plates all collide at different points. It is a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, the world’s most tectonically active area. Practically all of our planets largest and most destructive earthquakes occur along the ring, one of which rocked the east coast of Japan at 2.46 pm JST (5.46am UTC) on March 11th 2011.

The magnitude 9 quake struck at the shallow depth of just 32 km roughly 70 km off the Oshika Peninsular. The area was already alert to seismic activity as several large foreshocks had occurred in the run up including a Mg 7.2 on March 9th and followed by three more above a Mg 6. Of course no one knew these were precursors to something much larger…

Initial reports from JMA and USGS put the March 11th quake at a 7.9 but this had risen first to a 8.8 and then to a 9 before most of the seismic waves had even hit Tokyo 373 km away. Luckily thanks to Japans intense seismic network the countries capital had at least 80 seconds warning before they felt the strong shaking.

The megathrust earthquake occurred where the Pacific Plate subducts beneath the North America Plate. The Pacific Plate moves at a relative speed of roughly 9 mm per year but it is not a smooth decent, tension can build and release in a large snap causing an earthquake. On March 11th this happened in epic style causing over ~50 meters of displacement near the Japan Trench which caused the tsunami which swept across the Sendai planes. The earthquake was so powerful that up to 1.69 meters of co-seismic deformation has permanently altered our planet and affected the Earths tilt shaving 1.8 microseconds of the day (not that we would ever notice!)

It was the forth largest earthquake ever recorded and the largest ever to strike Japan.

The Tsunami 

The displacement on the sea bed in turn caused a huge displacement of water in the Pacific ocean its self. Across a 180 km stretch there was recorded up thrust of 6-8 meters. Above the rupture the tsunami waves would have looked like no more than ripples on the surface radiating out across the ocean. It is as the waves reach the continental shelf and the water is forced upwards that they begin to take on their characteristic ‘wall of water’ appearance.
At its maximum height (recorded at Miyako, Iwate) the waves hit 40.5 m high (133 ft). The Pacific has the most comprehensive tsunami warning systems in the world but even this gave only about 15 minutes warning from the earthquake to waves hitting the coast line. Travelling at speeds up to 500 mph the water surged up to 6 miles (10 km) inland.

Honshu earthquake tsunami travel times

It was not just Japan which felt the repercussions of the event. Tsunami waves propagated out through out the entire Pacific. 11,000 miles away the coast of Chile experienced waves in excess of 2 meters along with most of the America west coast right up through to the Aleutian Islands and as far south as Antarctica where it broke chunks off the Sulzberger Ice Shelf

An estimated 5 million tonnes of debris began washing up on shore lines across the Pacific in the months and even years after the initial Earthquake. In April 2013 a 20 ft boat ran aground in California and was later identified as belonging to the marine sciences program at Takata High School, Japan. NOAA have kept tracks and aimed to clear as much of the debris as possible to minimize risk to ships and wild life but the operation can take more than a decade.


The melt down at the Fukushima was the worst nuclear disaster the world has seen since Chernobyl in 1986.

The plant ran by TEPCO had 3 of its 6 units shut down for inspection when the earthquake struck. Units 1, 2 and 3 then under went automatic shutdown cutting off power. 50 minutes later the waves up to 15 meters high breached the measly 5.7 meters seawalls and flooded the basements of the turbine buildings and disabling the emergency generators. The lack of power meant the cooling systems of the 3 active reactors failed and eventually the heat caused by decay caused the containers to burst leaking radioactive material.

It was classified a Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) and its was the way the event was handled from the very beginning my TEPCO which saw the escalation in the threat. Approximately 15 PBq of caesium-137 was released along with some 500 PBq of iodine-131, luckily all the failed reactors were in concrete containment vessels, which limited the release of strontium-90, americium-241 and plutonium.

Dozens of vehicles lie abandoned and covered in overgrown bushes along what was once a stretch of road near the power plantNo deaths were caused by the events or short term radiation exposure but it is thought people in the area worst hit will have a slightly higher risk of developing certain cancers in the future. Now 5 years on there is still a 12.5 km is still in place with thousands of people still exiled from their homes. The wild has reclaimed the land making it look like a scene from an apocalyptic film.

It could be centuries before the area is truly deemed safe to live on again.

Pre-Warning; This has happened before

Japan is no stranger to tsunamis; the 1896 and 1933 Sanriku earthquakes (Mg 8.5 and 8.4 respectively) also brought deadly waves. For this reason tsunami barriers have been constructed both on and off shore, trees were planted along the coastline, vertical evacuation buildings were built to the highest standards and regular evacuation training was introduced. But none of these were built to with stand the sheer force of a tsunami of this magnitude.

In 2001 a team from Tohoku University published an article in Journal of Natural Disaster predicting such an event occurring every 800-1100 years. Within the Sendai Plain there is evidence of at least 3 major tsunami deposits all left within the past 3000 years. On July 9th 869 BC what is believed to be a magnitude 8-9 earthquake occurred off the coast of Sanriku causing a major tsunami which left deposits up to 4 km inland. So given that we knew an event like this had occurred before, why was Japan not better prepared for March 11th?

Sadly human nature does not always listen to the reason of science. It is often easier to believe ‘it won’t happen in my life time’ and then brush the threat under the carpet for future generations. The problem is it does not matter how much we study the mechanics of our planet we are still no where near being able to predict these disasters with any degree of accuracy meaning preparation is our best defence.


A report issued by the Japanese government in May 2015 claimed the events of March 11th 2011 caused $300 billion dollars. A confirmed 15,894 people lost their lives, 2,562 people are still unaccounted for.

5 years on the area is yet to recover. An estimated 174,000 are still displaced mainly due to the exclusion zone still heavily in place around the Fukushima plant. Soon as the initial rescue operation was completed the Tohoku Earthquake Tsunami Joint Survey Group was assembled. A team of natural scientists and engineers from 63 universities world wide set out to understand what made this tsunami so powerful and how we can protect our selves from further events. By the end of 2011 the Japanese government had passed laws to establish “tsunami-safe cities” and pledged billions of dollars to an intense 5 year clean up operation. It was clearly a bigger job than they originally thought….

Today there are still over 60,000 people living in temporary accommodation.For residents once living near the Fukushima power plant they will probably never return to there own homes. Sendai is still trying to recover from the tragic events but also now living in fear that this could occur again.

It is for this reason I choose to go in to studying geoscience. We all live at the mercy of our planet and most of us never even consider the risk the land beneath our feet poses. Prediction, preparation and knowledge can save lives and this is what I one day want to help with.


Figure 1; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1365318/Japan-earthquake-tsunami-The-moment-mother-nature-engulfed-nation.html

Figure 2; http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/shakemap/global/shake/c0001xgp/

Figure 3; http://minookatap.com/2011/08/22/japan-book-club-the-big-wave-5/

Figure 4; http://www.livescience.com/39110-japan-2011-earthquake-tsunami-facts.html

Figure 5; https://7plaguesofgod.wordpress.com/2011-tsunami-japan/

Figure6; http://vassarchronicle.com/section/politics/foreign-affairs/lack-of-regulation-fukushima-meltdown/

Figure 7; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3263714/Destroyed-man-reclaimed-nature-Amazing-images-reveal-exclusion-zone-Fukushima-abandoned-overgrown-wilderness.html




Eruptions Updates


Villarrica, Chile

Villarrica has become the Kim Kardashian of volcanoes with stunning images of its recent activity flooding the internet. Fire fountains have sent ash and lava up to 1000 ft in to the air and light up the skies of Southern Chile for the past few days.

The volcano has been restless for several weeks now, with small bombs and scoria blocking the usual tourist hike round the crater lake. So far about 3,500 people have been evacuated from the flanks, predominantly the residents of Pucón a popular tourist destination.

Although the fireworks appear to have calmed down, seismicity remains high indicating Villarrica has not finished clearing his throat.

Bardabunga, Iceland

The other big volcanic news this past week comes with the end of the blogs most covered lava field at Holuhraun. On February 29th the Icelandic Met Office released a statement that the fissure eruptions has come to an end as there appears to be no lava output since mid February.


More in depth updates soon to follow.

Today in Geological History; January 14th – Kingston Earthquake 1907


The small Caribbean island of Jamaica is not one you usually associate with quakes but it does in fact transverse several fault lines. It lays where the Caribbean plate is moving westward relative to the Gonâve microplate with the main fault lines being the Enriquillo-Plantain garden fault zone in the east and the Walton fault zone to the west. The faults cause an average of 200 – 400 minor quakes a year on the island and is a part of the same fault system which cause the devastating Haiti quake of 2010. Jamaica its self has had a fair few big earthquakes, luckily there tends to be around 100 years between events. January 14th 1907 was one of the worst in recent history.

At 3.30pm local time a magnitude 6.5 earthquake along the sinstral strike-slip fault. Every house in Kingston was damaged and a local tsunami was triggered causing waves 6-8 ft crashing in to the northern coastline. Fires raged for hours after hindering rescue attempts for people trapped under the collapsed buildings.

It is estimated between 800 to 1100 people were killed although even official death tolls varied greatly. Over 10,000 were left homeless and over $25,00 000 worth of damage was caused leading it to be refered to as one of Jamaica’s worst natural disasters. Most of the damaged occurred in Kingston, although Buff Bay and Anotto Bay were also badly effected.

The main tremor lasted 35 seconds and was followed almost immeadiatly by a slightly weaker after shock. The only seismograph on the island was actually damaged by the earthquake meaning that magnitude and epicentre had to pretty much be guessed from witness reports. Over 80 aftershocks occurred over the next month pulling down already destroyed buildings. At the time buildings were poorly constructed to withstand any level of earthquake and this was made worse by the bedrock of the area being mainly unconsolidated sands and gravels meaning a greater intensity on the surface and ground deformation.

One positive outcome was the greater awareness of the seismic threat to the island. Building codes were put in place as the city was rebuilt to limit future destruction, earthquake and fire insurance became available to residents and better monitoring systems were put in place. Sadly a full seismic network was not put in place until after the 1957 Montego Bay earthquake.



Current Volcanic Activity; New and Updates.



Just moments after posting this originally images came through of a pyroclastic flow at Sinabung at 14.05 GMT.


Finally I have found a half decent update from the Global Volcanism Program albeit for about a week or two ago. By the 6th January the lava front had stalled in areas near S Ilheu de Losna where as was still advancing at a slow rate in the northern end of the town. Houses are still being overtake by the flow but decreasing temperatures of the lava means we could be nearing an end to the destruction. For the first few days of the month sulfur dioxide emissions were averaging at 1200 to 1300 tonnes a day.


Etna saw out 2014 with some pretty explosive activity on the 29th December. The new southeast crater had consistent but small emissions and incandescents. Explosions intensified on the 2nd and 3rd sending material 150 meters above the crater rim and an ash plume which traveled southwest.

Activity has been pretty on going since December 28th and shows little sign of slowing. On January 1st and 2nd, strombolian activity was seen at th Voragine crater, which has been inactive for over two years.


Based on pilot observations an ash plume rose to just over 10,000 ft on January 6th.  This is the first notable activity at the volcano since 2009. The main caldera is submarine.


Darwin VAAC reported that a ‘significant’ eruption began at 14.47 local time on January 6th.  A lava flow has travelled 2 km down the WSW flank although no warnings have been issued. An ash plume rose to roughly 27,000 ft how ever nothing can be detected on satellite imagery due to poor weather conditions. The alert remains at 3 on the four point scale.


As of January 5th the lava flow now covers an area just over 83 square kilometers. although the overall intensity of both flow and seismicity is less then a few months ago, the fissure eruption shows no sign that it is coming to an end.



On December 31st the alert d 2 and local residents were warned not to go within a 1.5 km radius of the crater. White plumes has been drifting from the Ratu crater since late November, but an increase in seismicity and ground deformation has led to the apparent rise in threat.


KVERT reported a lot of strong activity at Sheveluch towards the end of December including incandescent avalanches and fumerolic activity. The aviation code was kept at orange as an ash plume travelled both 60 km westwards and over 370 km ENE. Satellite images indicate a thermal anomaly over a new lava dome on the northern flank.



One of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes blast back to life today with explosions and pyroclastic flows since early morning.


Last year Sinabung was extremely active with notable activity in January, February and October. February 1st eruption left at least 16 dead after people began to enter exclusion zones after the previous months activity had seemed to cease.

The aviation code has been raised to red as an ash column currently looks to be towering over a newly formed lava dome. Another lava dome means the threat of another dome collapse, which tends to be one of the volcanoes most deadly tendencies.


Most locals have not returned to their homes since last year’s activities and it is belived that Sinabung has indirectly killed 11 in recent months as disease spreads through cramped the temporary accommodation for the evacuated residents.


As always I shall keep you posted as I believe this may be one to watch for 2015!

Boxing Day Tsunami 2004 – 10 years on


Very few natural disasters have effected the entire globe quiet like the events of Boxing day 2004. For me, it was one of the first that captured my full attention and left me wanting to understand how in a matter of minutes thousands of people can just be wiped of the face of the Earth.

The Setting.

The Indian Ocean lays on the western side of the Pacific Ring of fire where the Indio-Austrailian plate is subducting beneath the Eurasian plate along the Sunda trench. Tectonic activity such as earthquakes and volcanic eruption are everyday occurrence in the area. As plates move in relation to each other they can become ‘locked’, unable to move past each other. Over time stress can build up within the locked plate untill the stress can no longer be contained and snaps like a rubber band causing a massive release of energy in the form of an earthquake. This is known as a stick slip fault and is usually the cause of the most powerful earthquakes.

On December 26th 2004 this occurred in spectacular fashion along the Sunda trench. A magnitude 9.2 earthquake rocked the Indian Ocean at 7.58 am. Over an astounding 1600 km stretch of the trench, uplift was recorded to be on average 6 meters. This massive displacement of such a long length of sea bed thrust the ocean waters upwards as well causing tsunami waves which would travel round the world. Such a powerful earthquake is termed a megathrust and released the energy of over 1.1×1017 joules, which is the equivalent of 26 megatonnes of TNT or 1500 Hiroshima atomic bombs.

Despite its violent geology the area is a travelers paradise with millions flocking to the islands  year round. Its equatorial location means year round sun and therefore in especial popular as a Christmas destination. On Boxing day 2004 the beaches were filled you tourist from around the world blissfully unaware of the danger that loomed off the coast.

The Waves.

The first inclination that something was very wrong along the white sandy beaches was a process called draw back. As the earthquake thrusts water up directly above the epicenter water is pulled in from the local area to balance the displacement. From the local shorelines people could see the sea withdrawn quiet rapidly like low tide happening in very fast motion.

At the starting location the tsunami wave looks no more then a small bump on the surface of the ocean and travels at speeds of 500 – 1000 kilometers per hour. As is nears land and the sea floor rises up to the coastline as does the wave rearing up on its self; in this case in excess of 30 ft in places.

The Aftermath.

Over 275,000 people were killed in fourteen countries across two continents, with the last two direct fatalities being swept out to sea in South Africa, more than twelve hours after the earthquake. Scores more died in the coming weeks as decaying bodies and pollution made the spread of disease. Nearly 150,000 homes and buildings were destroyed by the waves.

Identifying bodies was near impossible new mortuaries had to be quickly constructed to handle the masses. In other cases some bodies took months to be washed up on shore and in others they were simply lost at sea.

Public response to the tragedy was unprecedented with over $14 billion US dollars raised by the public world wide, with about the same given by varying governments. It was by far not the worst or most fatal natural disaster in recent years but it touched the hearts of nations world wide at Christmas so every one flocked to help.

Different governments and agencies tended to stick to certain regions in the relief effort as seen above in a relief map produced by the Red Cross.

Road to recovery.

Now ten years on, the countries involved are well on the road to recovery but still scared by the events that Christmas. This years anniversary has seen coverage of the area rocket, with some stunning imagery showing how far certain areas have come since the devastation in 2004.

Will it happen again???

In short, yes. This was the not first major earthquake in this area now will it be the last. By January 1st 2005 there had already been 84 aftershocks ranging between magnitudes 5 to 7. On March 28th 2005 the biggest aftershock occurred just a few hundred kilometers from the original epicenter. Another tsunami was trigger but luckily waves of barely 10 ft were recorded in the local area, still 1346 people lost their lives.

With the tectonic location of the Indian Ocean and its islands, it is never a matter of ‘if’ but a matter of when such events will occur. What hinder this further is it is one of the most densely populated areas of the world but its equatorial weather and fertile volcanic grounds make it prime location for people to live regardless of risk.