The 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami - Essay Prowess
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The 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami

The 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami


The 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami




Earth Sciences

Catastrophic Events in Earth History



1.  Introduction                                                                                                    2

2. The Megathrust Earthquake and Tsunami                                                  4

3. Dealing with the Consequences of the Catastrophe                                     7                                                   

                        3.1 Geophysical consequences                                                                7

                        3.2 Humanitarian consequences                                                             7

                        3.3 Nuclear Power[RA1]  Plant                                                                               9

4. Conclusions                                                                                                     10                                                                                                                                                                                       

5. References                                                                                                        11                                                                                                                                                       


Figure 1 – Location of Tohoku in Japan                                                                  2

Figure 2 – Epicenter of the earthquake relative to Japan                                        2

Figure 3 – Tsunami with large heights in coast                                                       3

Figure 4 – Damage in Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan                                     3

Figure 5 – Some countries coasted [RA3] in the Pacific Ocean                                                  4

Figure 6 – Relative locations of Pacific and Okhotsk plates                                    5

Figure 7 – Mental health professionals supporting the survivors                                        8


Text Box:
Figure 1 – Location of Tohoku in Japan 2
An unpredicted magathrust[RA4]  earthquake and tsunami left more than 20,000 Japanese dead, injured and missing on March 11th 2011, at 14:46 JST. The site of rupture of this earthquake was 70 kilometers east of the Tohoku Penisula[RA5] (Fig. 1 & 2[RA6] ).1

Text Box:
Figure 2 –Epicenter of the earthquake relative to Japan 3

 Megathrust is the strongest type of earthquake in which one tectonic plate is forced under another. This type of quake occurs at the subduction zone.4 The top five largest earthquakes since 1900 were[RA7]  of this type.5,6 Tsunamis are large scale waves which travel in water and can reach large heights when they get close to the coast(Fig. 3[RA8] ) Underwater earthquakes, landslides and volcanic eruptions are common causes of tsunami[RA9] .7,8

Text Box:   Figure 3 – Tsunami with large heights in coast 9

Text Box:
Figure 4 – Damage in Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan14
Until today, the Tohoku catastrophe is affecting the lives of many inside and outside of Japan.1 In terms of magnitude, the Tohoku quake was the 5th[RA10]  in modern history[RA11] .7 However, in terms of its long-term effects and the population density of the area at which it occurred[RA12] , it can be classified as the most severe magathrust[RA13]  quake. For instance, despite having a much higher magnitude than the Tohoku quake, 1964 Alaska earthquake only left approximately 150 people dead.6 The major reason for this difference in deaths is Tohoku area’s population density compared to Alaska’s. At the time of each earthquake, the population density of Alaska and Tohoku were 240,000 people/1,518,800 kmand 10,000,000 people/66,889 km[RA14] in Alaska and Tohoku respectively.10,11

Furthermore, Tohoku earthquake[RA15]  damaged some nuclear power plants and caused excess release of radioactive materials into the environment. This has had negative long-term impacts on Japan and other countries in that region (Fig[RA16]  4).5 No other earthquake was associated with such severe [RA17] nuclear accident.12,13

This report first explores the events that led to the Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami, the aftershocks following the event and potential earthquakes which can occur in the region. Then, some of the consequences and ways to minimize those negative impacts will be discussed[RA18] .


Text Box:
Figure 5 – Some countries coasted in Pacific Ocean15            According to U.S. Geological Services, the magnitude of the earthquake was 9.0 and the death toll was 15,703 individuals. 5,314 people were injured and 4,647 missing[RA19] , Also, around 332,000 buildings and 2000 roads were destroyed as a result of the event.1,7

Although the epicenter of the earthquake was roughly seventy kilometers east of Tōhoku Peninsula, the resulting tsunami affected about twenty countries with coasts in the pacific[RA20]  ocean, such as [RA21] the Philippines, Russia and Australia (Fig 5[RA22] ).1[RA23] 

Text Box:
Figure 6 – Relative locations of Pacific and Okhotsk plates. Japan is shown in green.17            Tohoku earthquake resulted when the Pacific plate was subducted beneath the Okhotsk Plate (Fig 6).16 The area withholding this subduction zone is called the Japan Trench zone. As the pacific[RA24]  plate moved under Okhotsk plate, it caused the Okhotsk plate to also move[RA25]  down. Both plates joined and were locked. However, the pacific[RA26]  plate pushed to move further. [RA27] As a result of the accumulated stress, a rupture occurred and the stored energy was released, resulting in such severe[RA28]  earthquake.6

Due to the sudden vertical and horizontal movement of the pacific[RA29]  plate with

respect to Okhostk plate[RA30] , huge amount of water was displaced and large  tsunamic[RA31]  waves resulted, reaching the[RA32]  maximum height of 132.5ft.18 The damage caused by this event is mainly associated with the tsunami.18 The waves travelled in the pacific[RA33]  ocean and caused tsunami in the coasts of other countries, such as[RA34]  the United States.19

             Historically, this particular subduction has not led to any earthquakes with magnitudes larger than 9. Although many of the earthquakes in the Japan trench were followed by large tsunamis and people’s deaths, none has[RA35]  been as nearly devastating as the 2011 quake. Namely, two of the largest earthquakes in the Japan trench were the 1896 and the 1933 earthquakes with magnitudes 7.6 and 8.6 respectively. About 22,000 and 3000 people were killed in the 1896 and 1933 earthquakes respectively. The large magnitude of the Tohoku earthquake has been linked to the accumulation of stress from several years before.20

Thousands of foreshocks and aftershocks accompanied the Tohoku earthquake, with some as large as 7.2 –7.4 in magnitude.21 Approximately 1000 aftershocks occurred in a period between March 2012 –December 2013, almost a year after the event.21,22

 The data obtained from the Tokohu earthquake has helped the seismologists to improve their methods and instrumentations to better monitor potential seismic activities.22 Moreover, the Japanese Seismologists have realized that the instrumentations installed inshore[RA36]  does not give a sufficient measure of plate activities and earthquake hazard. Therefore, the scientists are now focusing on offshore monitoring of the plates[RA37] ’ activities and trench formation.23

            Using the features [RA38] of many quakes in Japan, such as Tokohu earthquake, Ayalew et al[RA39]  predicted a high chance of landslide and earthquake in the southeastern areas of Hokkaido and a low probability of earthquake in the northern part of Japan.24 Furthermore, the Tohoku earthquake has reduced the probability of earthquakes resulting from interaction between the Pacific  and the Okhotsk plates because much stressed was taken off those plates after the 2011 earthquake.25


The 2011 Tohoku megathrust has considerably affected Japan, its neighboring countries and the world. Specifically, its effect on Japan’s economy, geophysics, people’s health, infrastructure and the nuclear power plants were overwhelming.7

3.1 Geophysical consequences[RA40] 

The regions near the epicenter of the earthquake have shifted as a result of the quake. For example, Honshu, an island very close to the epicenter, has shifted eastward. Overall, the earthquake has resulted in the expansion of Japan’s land.26, 27. Furthermore, the magathrust[RA41]  moved the earth axis 17 centimeters and increased the earth’s rotation speed by around 2 microseconds.27 Moreover, the seismic waves from the megathrust have had important roles in the remarkable increase in activities of some volcanoes in that region. Notably, more than 1600 volcanic events were recorded in a period of one month after the earthquake in Hakone volcano, a number much higher than its normal monthly activity.28

3.2 Humanitarian consequences

As of April 13, 2011, the death toll from the earthquake and the tsunami was 13,392 individuals.1 Aside from the short-term humanitarian[RA42]  effects, this event has had long-term negative physical and psychological impacts. The long-term physical health effects will be discussed under the “Nuclear Plant Crisis” section.

Equally as important[RA43]  is the effect of earthquake on the mental health of people. Unfortunately, the officials were not sufficiently aware of the fact that such catastrophic events are often accompanied by debilitating psychological conditions. 29, 30 As a result of family members loss and sudden changes in everyday life styles, a considerable number of quake survivors developed symptoms of depression. A survey in 2011 showed that 70% of government workers asked for leaves from their jobs because of mental issues.29

Text Box:
Figure 7–Mental health professionals supporting the survivors 29  fmagaJapanese Government sent some mental health professionals to the site of accident to distribute antidepressant medications and to provide the survivors with psychological supports (Fig 7).29 However, the number of psychologists or psychiatrists were much fewer than required.  As a result of depression, then, many of the survivors increased their alcohol consumptions.31 Furthermore, suicide rates went up by[RA44]  a factors of 30%. 29

After the earthquake, national organizations in charge of mental health have developed more stringent guidelines for mental care professionals. These guidelines ensure that the professionals are constantly prepared and aware of the possible distress symptoms that can develop in different times following a disaster.  Furthermore, Japan Health Ministry has trained more than ten thousands[RA45]  workers and clinicians to be able to provide psychological support after disasters.32

3.3 Nuclear Power Plant

Although the event of earthquake led to an automatic shutdown of the nuclear facility in the east of Japan, the resulting[RA46]  tsunami did not allow for sufficient cooling of the reactors. Lack of proper cooling and extreme heat resulted in melting of the reactor’s elements, leakage and excessive emission of radioactive materials from the reactors.33

The radioactivity contaminated 30,000 square kilometers of Japan’s lands.5 Radioactive cesium soon found its way to Japan’s ecosystem and food chain. The health agencies have found radioactive cesium in Japanese food products, such as beef and spinach.34 Continuous consumption of foods containing radioactive cesium is linked to liver and heart disease as cesium accumulates in those organs.5

 Tohoku earthquake was the cause of the largest discharge of radioactive materials into the world’s oceans.35 Presence of radioactive wastes in the Pacific Ocean translates to accumulation of radioactivity in a larger number of marine organisms. As people in Japan’s neighboring countries begin to use those marine products, they will suffer detrimental consequences.

            The government evacuated large areas around the nuclear facilities, and has been trying to clean up the area from radioactive materials. However, rain and snow dissolved the radioactive materials and transferred them to other areas. Therefore, it is not possible to completely eliminate the traces of radioactivity although its amounts have been reduced.5

            Among the great lessons learned by the countries with nuclear facilities was to raise the seawall protecting the facility high enough to prevent water from shutting off the power plant.36Additionally, many nuclear countries including Japan are beginning to install hydrogen recombiners which remove the radioactive waste and hydrogen gas produced without requiring electricity.33,37  This system ensures that radioactive hydrogen gas will not be released into the atmosphere if another tsunami causes damage to nuclear facilities[RA47] .  


The 2011 Tohoku megathrust is the fifth largest earthquake after 1900 AD.7 The significance[RA48]  of this earthquake lies in the area in which it occurred and the long- term consequences it left behind. Tohoku earthquake occurred in a region populated with millions of residents and was followed by a tsunami as high as 132.5ft.11,18 Subduction of the Pacific plate under the Okhotsk Plate gave rise to this catastrophe.16 High probability of other quakes in the southeastern region of Japan is predicted.24

            Among the many consequences of this catastrophic event are the geophysical, humanitarian, and infrastructure-related effects in the region. Particularly, the negative impact of this earthquake on the physical and mental health of people in the region is significant.7 The radioactive leakage resulting from the damage to the nuclear power plant is a major reason for the physical health problems.5 Japanese and other government have increased the safety of the nuclear facilities and trained more social workers to reduce the potential damage of future earthquakes[RA49] . 32


  1. [RA50]  O. ,Ye T., Kajltani Y. ,Shi P.,  and Tatano H. (2011[RA51] ). The 2011 eastern Japan great earthquake disaster: Overview and comments. Disaster Risk Science 2, 34-42
  2. Yokoso! Japan: North Tohoku:[RA52] accessed October 2, 2014)
  3. Voices from Japan: ’hearts filled with grief ’: (accessed October 2, 2014)
  4. Questions and Answers on Megathrust Earthquakes: October 8, 2014)
  5. Costs and consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster: (accessed October 8, 2014)
  6. Megathrust earthquake: October 6, 2014)
  7. 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami:ōhoku_earthquake_and_tsunami(accessed October 8, 2014)
  8. Bryant, E. (2014[RA53] ). Tsunami The Underrated Hazard, Third Edition: 78
  9. Tsunami Just Hit New York, Doomsday, 2012 The Ultimate End Of The World Prank: [RA54] (accessed October 4, 2014)
  10. Alaska: (accessed October 6, 2014)
  11. Tōhoku region:ōhoku_region (accessed October 10, 2014)
  12. Lujaniene G., Bycenkiene S., Povienec P. and Gera M. (2012), [RA55] Environmental Radioactivity[RA56] ,.Radionuclides from the Fukushima accident in the air over Lithuania:measurement and modelling approaches. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity 114, 71-80
  13.  Tsunami: October 10, 2014)

  1. The Technology That Will Help Prevent Another Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: October 14, 2014)
  2.  Pacific Ocean:    9.html (accessed October 12, 2014)
  3.  Sunuwar. L., Karkee  M.B. Tokeshi J. C. and Cuadra C. (2001[RA57] ) Applications of GIS in Probabilistic Seismic Hazard Analysis of Urban Areas. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 91, 1229-1246
  4.  Reformulating a Seismicity Model for Japan:[RA58]  (accessed October 12 2014)
  5.  Imamura F[RA59] ., Anawat S. (2012) Damage due to the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake Tsunami and its lessons for future Mitigation. Proceedings of the International Symposium on Engineering Lessons Learned from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, March 1-4, 2012, Tokyo, Japan
  6.  Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011: (accessed October 14, 2014)
  7.  Ozawa S. ,Nishimura T., Suito H., ,Koboyashi T., Tobita.M[RA60] ., Imakiire T. (2011) Nature, coseismic and postseismic slip of the 2011 magnitude-9 Tohoku-Oki earthquake. Nature 475, 373-376   
  8.  Tohoku earthquake and tsunami QuickiWiki:[RA61] (accessed October 10, 2014)
  9. The March 11 Tohoku Earthquake, One Year Later. What Have We Learned?: (accessed October 10, 2014)
  10.  Two Years Later: Lessons from Japan’s Tohoku Earthquake (accessed October 16, 2014)
  11.  Ayalew  L.,  Kasahara M. and Yamagishi H.(2011) The spatial correlation between earthquakes and landslides in Hokkaido (Japan), a GIS-based analysis of the past and the future. Journal of the International Consortium on Landslides 8, 433
  12.  Somerville P.G.(2014) A post-Tohoku earthquake review of earthquake probabilities in the Southern Kanto District, Japan. Geoscience[RA62]  Letters  1,10
  13.  Sato M., Ishikava T., Ujihara N., Yoshida S., Fujita M. and Asada A. (2011) Displacement Above the Hypocenter of the 2011 Tohoku-Oki Earthquake. Science 332, 1395
  14.  Japan quake may have shortened Earth days,moved axis: October 9, 2014)
  15.  Yukutake Y., Honda R., Harada M., Aketawa T., Ito H. and Yoshida A. (2011) Remotely-triggered seismicity in the Hakone volcano following the 2011 off the Pacific coast of Tohoku Earthquake. Earth Planets Space  63, 737–740
  16.  Mental Health After the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami (2011): October 11, 2014)
  17.  Yamazaki M., Minami Y., Sasaki H., Sumi M. (2011) The psychosocial response to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 89, 623
  18.  Nakanishi C., Kawagishi N.,  Sato K.,  Miyagi S., Takeda I. ,Ohuchi N. (2014) Impact of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake on the resumption of alcohol consumption after living-donor liver transplantation for alcoholic cirrhosis. Transplantation Proceeding 46, 992-994
  19.  Ishida A. and  Kim Y. (2011) Acute mental care policy to the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, Japan, 2011. Report, National Centre of Neurology and Psychiatry, Japan.
  20.  Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster: October 11, 2014)
  21. Zaré M. and Ghaychi S.A. (2012) Crisis management of Tohoku; Japan

      earthquake and tsunami. Iran Journal of Public Health 41, 12–20


Address reprint requests to Chikashi Nakanishi, MD, PhD, Department of Transplantation, Reconstruction and Endoscopic Surgery, Tohoku University Hospital, 1-1 Seiryou-machi, Aobaku, Sendai, 980-8574, Japan.


N. Kawagishi

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K. Sato

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S. Miyagi

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I. Takeda

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N. Ohuchi

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36) Lipscy P. Y., Kenji E., Kushida K. E. and Incerti T. (2013)The Fukushima Disaster and Japan’s Nuclear Plant Vulnerability in Comparative Perspective. American Chemical Society 47, 6082−6088

37) Gera B., Sharma P. K., Singh R. K., and Vaze K. K. (2011) CFD analysis of passive autocatalytic recombiner interaction with atmosphere. Independent Journal of Nuclear Engineering 76, 1- 9

 [RA1]why the different spacing here and below??

 [RA2]6. illustrations, -0.5

 [RA3]? grammar



 [RA6]poor figure,-2

Retaken 2 marks out for the Poor Figure

 [RA7]have been

 [RA8]need an illustrative cartoon, -1

 [RA9]tsunamis, grammar

 [RA10]fifth what??, -0.5

 [RA11]need more stats about the destruction caused eg: lives lost, monetary loss etc could have been included, this would tell me that Tohoku was a great tragedy, -0.5

 [RA12]need to framethis in a better way


 [RA14]population density should be given in /unit km2, eg: 5000people/km2, -0.5

 [RA15]or was it the tsunami?-0.5

 [RA16]not required here, -1



 [RA19]. all these stats should be included in the section above, not asked for out here but since I have cut 0.5 marks out here I am not going to cut your marks again fo including this in the wrong section

 [RA20]spelling, Pacific


 [RA22]give a picture of the Pacific Ring of Fire

 [RA23]Again all this couldbe a part of the intro


 [RA25]idea not vey clear, -0.5


 [RA27]unclear idea again

 [RA28]a severe, grammar


 [RA30]how far did the plates slip by?, -0.5


 [RA32]a, grammar


 [RA34]how far inland did the tsunami reach, which areas did it hit, -0.5

 [RA35]have, grammar

 [RA36]onshore?, spelling

 [RA37]plate activities not plates’ activities, grammar

 [RA38]What feature?, -0.5

 [RA39]year?, -0.5

 [RA40]this is not required here, could have been use in the intro or in section 2, would have reduced your word count, -0.5, spoken about a consequence but it is not one that can be dealt with and you were better off putting this in the intro section


 [RA42]wrong usage, grammar


 [RA44]grammar spelling, still a grammar mistake



 [RA47]new measuring systems, better building designs, largest dataset for further study, -1, you get a mark here because you are right you have included all pieces of required info

 [RA48]conclusion needs to be a bit condensed with a better flow of ideas,  future plan of action needs to be framed better    -0.5


Title page: 2/2

Table of Contents: 7.5/8

Text (word limit: see “Instructions”)

Page numbers: 2/2

Illustrations/Tables: 6/10  

Headings: 2/2

References: 10.5/15   

Spelling: 0/3

Grammar: 1/3

Style: 4.5/5


Introduction: 8/10

The Megathrust Earthquake + Tsunami: 13/15

Dealing with the Consequences: 19/20

Conclusions: 4.5/5

Word Count: -5

Total: 75/100

 [RA50]no ) required after 1 in superscript,

 [RA51]no fullstop here

 [RA52]blog, -1

 [RA53]wrongly formatted, -1

 [RA54]shady website, -1

 [RA55]no comma

 [RA56]why use both , and .  ?-0.5

 [RA57]no italics

 [RA58]be consistent



 [RA61]stop listing random websites, -1

 [RA62]Italics, -0.5, unfortunately i will have to cut 0.5 mark additionally out here so that I’m fair to everyone