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Earth Shifts on Its Axis, Day Shortened After Japan Quake

8.9-magnitude event provides valuable data for earthquake scientists.

Friday's magnitude-8.9 earthquake in Japan was so powerful it shifted Earth on its axis and slightly shortened the length of a day, and will help scientists plan for the future, earthquake experts at Caltech said Saturday.

The quake—said to be the fifth most powerful since 1900—and ensuing tsunami, killed more than 1,000 people in the island nation, and thousands more are missing. It also caused serious problems at three nuclear plants in Japan, prompting the evacuation of 200,000 people.

The resulting tsunami also affected the Southland, with wave surges capsizing boats on Catalina Island and causing a surge in King Harbor in Redondo Beach that  was believed responsible for a boat breaking free and slicing a dock in two.

But the quake provided valuable data for earthquake scientists, because an extensive network of sensors were placed throughout Japan after that country's magnitude-6.8 Kobe earthquake in 1995 that killed more than 6,000 people because its epicenter was near a major city.

At a news conference Saturday, scientists at Caltech said it will provide a more precise view of how Earth is deformed during massive earthquakes at sites where one plate is sliding under another, including the Pacific Northwest in the United States, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“The Japanese have the best seismic information in the world,” said Lucy Jones, chief scientist for the Multi-Hazards project at the U.S. Geological Survey. “This is overwhelmingly the best-recorded great earthquake ever.”

Analysts have determined that the earthquake's force moved parts of eastern Japan as much as 12 feet closer to North America, and Japan has shifted downward about two feet.

The temblor also should have caused Earth to rotate somewhat faster, shortening the length of the day by about 1.8 microseconds.

Jones said the U.S. Geological Survey determined that the entire earthquake sequence—including foreshocks and aftershocks—had so far resulted in 200 temblors of magnitude 5 or larger, 20 of which occurred before the big quake hit.

She said the aftershocks were continuing but decreasing in frequency, although not in magnitude, which was to be expected.

Caltech geophysicist Mark Simons said that kind of information will enable scientists to understand future hazards in the region.

Caltech seismological engineer Tom Heaton said the devastating temblor will provide more information about what happens to buildings when they shake for long periods, and how to construct them so they will survive massive quakes.

“We had very little information about that before now,” he said.

Though the data is still being processed, he said it will probably show that the shaking lasted for three minutes.

Another massive earthquake in the Pacific Northwest is “inevitable,” although it may not strike for hundreds of years, Jones said.

“They have an opportunity,” she said. “This will help the Pacific Northwest understand what they should be ready for. I wouldn't be sleepless in Seattle, but I'd be studious.”

sunshine March 14, 2011 at 08:26 PM
For those that want to prepare for a disaster: http://sanclemente.patch.com/articles/family-survival-kit-water-food-gun-ammo-gold
Ryan March 14, 2011 at 08:31 PM
Capo parent too, very good points that we should all be able to agree on!!!!
Tammy March 18, 2011 at 07:53 AM
@ Ryan I agree it was a lack of oxygen in a small area, but the reason for a lack of oxygen is becuse of those poeple living on those boats that are not going out to blue water to dump their tanks thus polluting the waters in a horrible way. The fish dying and sticking up the air is poetic justice to those people that were living on those boats and sticking up the water for the poor fish. God likely sent a school of those fish there to die and stick up the boat people's air since they were stinking up the marina's water so badly.
Tammy March 18, 2011 at 07:59 AM
@ Mondo T Redondo is very far from the earthquake in Japan. There may be a connection of seismic activity and fumes but it would have to be in the Redondo area to cause this kind of effect of the fish dying. See the response to Ryan below, for my guess of what happened to the fish. There is the possiblity someone "did" something to the fish in the marina. People can be really stupid and mean sometimes.
Tammy March 18, 2011 at 08:23 AM
@Mary Ann I was not aware of any connection between seismic activity and cosmic and solar changes. Is there some sort of historical data to detect patterns between the events? Is there a name for the science that might connect these events at this time? Who would be the area expert on this subject? Any sort of conclusions made in relation to these events would be imperical data or observations, so saying that the events are connected would be speculation. The heavy rain fall may be due to the shift in the jet stream putting all kinds of moisture in the air from the south pacific and dragging it across the midwestren states. The Jet stream normal crosses the N. Amercian coastline on the Canadian coast this time of year. Why it is crossing at the So. California coast line is not something I can be certain of, but the Jet Stream is also putting the Japanese radiation in LA and San Diego, rather than the scarely populated Canadian coast.

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