Entire planet shaken up by Japan’s earthquake


Within a matter of weeks, Earth has experienced a swarm of earthquake activity. We’ve all heard about the deadly and catastrophic 9.0 magnitude quake that devastated northern Japan with its violent shaking and the huge tsunami it generated on Friday.

The earthquake was so strong that it shifted Earth’s axis about 6.5 inches. This shift would affect how our planet rotates, not its position in space. According to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, it’s estimated that the Japanese quake shortened Earth’s day by 1.8 microseconds as it increased the Earth’s rotation. The loss of time should not cause any type of time change, but may mark a slight difference in the passing of the seasons and also affect precise satellite navigation systems.

And, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that some parts of Japan actually moved 12 feet closer to North America as a result of Earth’s violent movements.

Japan’s monster earthquake was tied for the fourth-largest in recorded history. The largest was a 9.5 magnitude measured off the coast of Chile on May 22, 1960. The second-largest shaker occurred on Good Friday, March 28, 1964, at Prince William Sound in Alaska. The magnitude was a 9.2, with Anchorage sustaining the highest property damage. The shock generated a tsunami that nearly destroyed many towns along the Gulf of Alaska and along parts of the West Coast. The quake was so strong that it was felt 4,000 miles away in Florida.

The third-largest earthquake was the one off the west coast of Northern Sumatra that registered a 9.1 on Dec. 26, 2004. It generated the most deadly tsunami in recorded history: About 250,000 people were killed.

On Nov. 4, 1952, an estimated 9.0 quake struck Kamchatka in far eastern Russia. It generated a tsunami that caused about $1 million in damage to the Hawaiian Islands, but, fortunately, no lives were lost.

Prior to the catastrophic quake in Japan, another earthquake that was a 5.8 magnitude struck southwestern China in the Yunnan Province. On March 10, a 6.5 earthquake hit Papua New Guinea. In Christchurch, New Zealand, more than 5,400 earthquakes have struck since Sept. 4.

In addition to the huge quake, four volcanoes erupted around the same time on March 11. Two of them exploded in eastern Russia, one in Indonesia and the other in southern Japan. According to one scientist, “Waves from the earthquake have been ringing the planet like a bell, causing stress in all sections of the planet.”

About 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes and 75 percent of the world’s dormant and active volcanoes lie in a region that stretches approximately 25,000 miles. This region that looks like a horseshoe, the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” stretches from New Zealand, Indonesia, Japan, southern Alaska and along the U.S., Central American and South American west coasts. It is the result of movement and collisions of huge plates in the Earth’s crust.

So what does all this recent activity mean? No one knows for sure, as earthquakes are extremely difficult to predict. Many scientists thought that a large earthquake was in store for northern Japan because of activity prior to the 9.0 magnitude quake.

Several Russian scientists, however, say large earthquakes are possible along the U.S. and South American west coasts in the near future. Their information is based upon increasing subtle electromagnetic signals in Earth’s upper atmosphere over these regions. But these are only educated guesses.

On another note, I did receive several e-mails about last week’s column that said during daylight saving time we receive more daylight hours. Actually, I should have said more evening daylight hours. Sorry for the confusion.

Contact meteorologist Randy Mann at randy@ longrangeweather.com.

Click here to comment on this story »