Japan Tsunami - March 2011
Japan earthquake and tsunami
On Friday 11 March 2011 at 2:46pm local time, an 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck close to the north east coast of Japan approximately 250 miles from Tokyo. The quake triggered a huge tsunami which swept inland near the city of Sendai in Miyagi prefecture.
The weekend of 12 and 13 March has been dominated by regular updates from the region of Japan that was most badly affected by the earthquake (which has been upgraded to a magnitude 9) and the ensuing tsunami and aftershocks.
The GA offers its condolences to everyone affected by these tragic events.
According to scientists Japan has moved approximately 8 feet (2.4m) closer to North America and the force of the quake has caused the Earth to shift between 4 and 6.5 inches (10-16cm) on its axis.
The scale of the disaster
News footage has shown the astonishing scale of the devastation, and the power of water in a highly urbanised area. In places the tsunami waves reached as far as six miles (10k) inland and entire towns such as Minami Sanriku have virtually disappeared.
At the time of writing tens of thousands of people are still missing and a massive international relief effort is underway to rescue and help survivors.
As a result of the tsunami, Japan is also facing a nuclear disaster after reactors at Fukushima power plant were damaged in the floods.
Although relatively unaffected during the initial earthquake, Tokyo continues to experience strong aftershocks and scientists have warned that another powerful earthquake could hit the city very soon.
In a speech to the country, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan called the disaster the 'worst crisis since World War II'.
Being prepared for earthquakes
Sitting on the edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire, tectonic activity is part of everyday life in Japan and with hundreds of earthquakes taking place every year, it is one of the best-prepared countries in the world.
Videos showing swaying skyscrapers in Tokyo provide a reminder of the efforts that have been made to protect buildings from potential earthquakes. This, combined with regular drills, will have had an effect on overall casualty numbers and it is worth remembering that it was the tsunami, not the earthquake, that caused the vast majority of damage.
Despite their experience and preparedness, some videos show a remarkable nonchalance as people filmed boats being washed under the very bridges they were stood on.
The combination of hazards has had wider impacts on the country's economy - links to global markets, car exports and manufacturing have been suspended, insurance claims will run into billions, and there are forecasts of rising energy prices.
Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures are responsible for over 40% of the Japanese economy, and most manufacturing has ceased. Food rationing is taking place and water supplies are cut in many parts of northern Japan.
A large percentage of Japan's energy comes from nuclear power and electricity is currently being rationed in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures as a result of problems at several nuclear plants. A rolling programme of blackouts is planned for the next few weeks.
Oil refineries have been affected, and many petrol stations have closed, with long queues at others. Many rail services have been suspended to reduce power consumption and avoid potential chaos in the event of further quakes.
In the longer term there will be a stimulus for the construction industry as the infrastructure and many buildings will require reconstruction, but this is a long way in the future...
Thoughts on pedagogy and potential activities for geography teachers
The challenge for geography teachers in the next few weeks will be to pick an appropriate route through the large number of potential resources and activities that could be selected. Teachers as 'curriculum makers' have difficult choices to make, even more so than ever where this event is concerned.
Students are likely to come with questions, and anxieties, and teachers will need to tackle these sensitively. They are likely to form the basis for the response - a lesson that is planned too rigidly might not enable some of these important questions to be answered.
Try to ensure that at least one computer with internet access is available for research. It may be possible to access the live news stream from NHK news.
Understanding the scale of the disaster
Some sense of the scale of the disaster might be appropriate to explore using Google Earth or other mapping software (e.g. GIS mapping). You could a free tool such as ESRI's ArcGIS online explorer - several maps of the recent earthquakes in Japan have already been made.
Many 'before and after' photographs have been published showing satellite imagery of the areas affected by the tsunami including these selections from the New York Times and BBC News. The images can also be downloaded as a KML file for viewing in Google Earth.
Students could perhaps be placed in a 'newsroom' hot seat - maybe preparing materials for the Google Crisis Response website. Alternatively they could interview a survivor, or prepare questions for a rescue worker on their way to the disaster area.
They might be asked to prepare / design applications that would be useful for residents and other people in the affected areas.
Using the headlines found in the previous activity, students could construct a Wordle to explore the language of tragedy and consider how to work on some of these issues to raise the morale of people in the affected areas.
Alternatively, take a Japanese poetry form, the haiku, and ask students to write a response to what they have seen and heard, perhaps adding a hopeful note.
It's likely that students will encounter vocabulary in news reports that they're unfamiliar with such as 'prefecture', 'temblor', 'meltdown' and 'microsievert'. As a class compile a list of unusual words and task students with finding explanations.
The movement of the tsunami
Immediately after the tsunami hit Japan alerts were in place around the Pacific including the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hawaii, Australia, Russia and North and South America.
The map at the top of this page was created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration West Coast & Alaska Tsunami Warning Center to show the expected travel time of the tsunami around the Pacific coast.
Did the tsunami reach these shores at the anticipated times?
An additional map showing the expected wave height was produced by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. How much impact did the tsunami have on other countries? Consider the effects in Hawaii and California where the waves were not as big as expected.
There could also be an exploration of how the shape and height profile of the coastline of Japan may have funnelled the waters further inland and at a faster rate in certain locations.
Teachers should perhaps take a lead from students at the start of the lesson to assess the possible focus:
- What do they know?
- What would they like to know?
- What should they know?
If we are having a debate about core knowledge in geography, should 'tsunami' be included?
Remember geographical enquiry - when choosing stimulus material identify appropriate images that offer potential for research and reflection.
Is it perhaps too early to be dissecting the disaster?
Tsunami resources by geography teachers
Andy Knill, who teaches in Essex spent most of the weekend compiling a tremendously useful Google Document. This contains a large collection of possible sources of information and Twitter feeds to follow for updates.
Becky Pook from Peacehaven School was quick off the mark with a creative and well-referenced Slideshare resource which explores not only the physical background to the event but also the emotional response. It includes some interesting ideas for model making and creative use of images. Many thanks to Beccy for sharing.
Effat Saleh made this Slideshare presentation which contains a range of images.
Ollie Bray wrote a blog post which concentrated on the efforts of Google and other technology firms to update their imagery as quickly as possible to enable assessment of the damage and provide before/after comparisons.
Mark Howell blogged his thoughts in the days following the tsunami - another example of the importance of teacher blogs. Some interesting thoughts on the issues of teaching a fast evolving news story.
The British Red Cross have prepared these 'Tsunami in Japan' assembly and classroom activities which include a video report and follow up questions.
Links to a number of French, Spanish and German tsunami resources have been compiled on the Hampshire MFL website.
Esri UK have put together an information page called 'How GIS can help when disaster strikes' which explains how GIS is used to provide up to date mapping of affected areas following a disaster like the Japan tsunami.
Japan tsunami - weblinks
ABC News - Japan Earthquake: before and after - striking before and after aerial photos
BBC - Japan earthquake: video reports - a map of the affected area and linked video reports
BBC 'Live: Japan tsunami' - live video report and news feed
BBC Special Report: Japan earthquake - comprehensive set of articles, photos and videos
BBC - Tsunami hits Japan after massive quake - image gallery
BBC - Tsunami hits Japan after massive quake - article explaining the size of the earthquake
CNN - Japan earthquake live blog - news updates and video reports
Guardian - Japan's 8.9 magnitude earthquake triggers tsunami - video footage
Guardian - Powerful earthquakes hit Japan - news report
MapAction - many resources related to MapAction's Japan deployment
National Post - Photos: Massive quake unleashes tsunami on Japan - selection of photos
New York Times - Satellite Photos of Japan, Before and After the Quake and Tsunami - includes slider functionality to help compare images
NHK WORLD TV - live news streaming from Japan
Sky News - Tsunami Hits Japan After 8.9 Megaquake - news report and live updates
The Daily Yomiuri - Massive quake strikes northern Japan - news report
The Telegraph - Japan earthquake and tsunami: live - live updates
BBC - Japan's earthquake and tsunami explained - video of a seismologist explaining what happened
British Geological Survey - Honshu, Japan Earthquake Magnitude 8.9 - brief summary of earthquake and downloadable seismograms
ESRI Japan Incident Map - locations of earthquakes and nuclear plants plus links to video footage
Google Maps - recent earthquakes in Japan with live updates from USGS
Japan Meteorological Agency - The 2011 off the Pacific coast of Tohoku Earthquake second report - updated information about aftershocks
Japan Meteorological Agency - current tsunami and earthquake warnings
NOAA West Coast & Alaska Tsunami Warning Center - Japan earthquake - tsunami alert information and maps
Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre - information about current alerts
Universe Today - The Science Behind a Tsunami - useful Q&A and graphics
US Geological Survey - Magnitude 8.9 near the east coast of Honshu, Japan - summary of tectonic activity, maps and diagrams
World Earthquake Intensity Map - produced by the University of Sheffield, it is accompanied by a population cartogram for Japan.
Anne Kaneko's Blog - daily updates from Fukushima prefecture
Google Blog - links to resources and information created by Google
Google Crisis Response - links to resources, information and video clips
Google Fast Flip - flick through newspaper headlines quickly
Google Person Finder - Japan earthquake
Living Geography Blog - updates for geography teachers
Operation Tomodachi - Flickr photos from the US Pacific fleet aid mission
ShelterBox - ShelterBox en route to Sendai in Japan - disaster relief
Snowblog - Jon Snow's Channel 4 news blog from Sendai
Twitter - Search for hashtags #tsunami #japan and #quake for live updates
Typhoon Fury - James Reynolds travels the world filming in disaster zones and he has made his way to Japan. As well as updating his blog he will be posting regular updates via Twitter. A useful 'contact' to follow over the coming days.
The Japan Society is a registered charity and the leading independent body in the UK dedicated to the enhancement of the British-Japanese relationship. It does this through a range of activities including lectures, educational projects, events and publications.
The Japan Society Tohoku Earthquake Relief Fund
In response to requests from supporters, the Society has set up The Japan Society Tohoku Earthquake Relief Fund which will channel donations to local voluntary and community organisations in Japan as they work to rebuild lives and communities.
Schools Letter Writing Project
Following suggestions from teachers, the Japan Society Education Programme has also set up the Schools Letter Writing Project which invites UK schools to send messages of support to schools in the affected area, particularly Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures.
Classes can create cards or write letters to support the children whose lives have been most affected by the earthquake. Items can be sent directly to the Japan Society who will translate and send the messages to schools in April at the start of Japan's new school year.
Get in touch
If you'd like to share a link or resources on this page, please contact Anne Greaves.
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