Earthquake and Tsunami near Sendai, Japan

NASA image captured March 11, 2011


On March 11, 2011, at 2:46 p.m. local time (05:46 Universal Time, or UTC), a magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck off the east coast of Japan, at 38.3 degrees North latitude and 142.4 degrees East longitude. The epicenter was 130 kilometers (80 miles) east of Sendai, and 373 kilometers (231 miles) northeast of Tokyo. If the initial measurements are confirmed, it will be the world's fifth largest earthquake since 1900.


This map shows the location of the March 11 earthquake, as well as the foreshocks (dotted lines) and aftershocks (solid lines). The size of each circle represents the magnitude of the associated quake or shock. The map also includes land elevation data from NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission and ocean bathymetry data from the British Oceanographic Data Center.


According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the earthquake occurred at a depth of 24.4 kilometers (15.2 miles) beneath the seafloor. The March 11 earthquake was preceded by a series of large foreshocks on March 9, including an M7.2 event. USGS reported that the earthquakes "occurred as a result of thrust faulting on or near the subduction zone interface plate boundary between the Pacific and North America plates."


The March 11 quake sent tsunami waves rushing into the coast of Japan and rippling out across the entire Pacific basin. Crescent-shaped coasts and harbors, such as those near Sendai, can play a role in focusing the waves as they approach the shore. Also, the land elevation is low and flat along much of the Japanese coast west and south of the earthquake epicenter, leaving many areas particularly vulnerable to tsunamis.


The Japan Meteorological Agency reported maximum tsunami heights of 4.1 meters at Kamaishi at 3:21 p.m. (06:21 UTC), 7.3 meters at 3:50 p.m. (06:50 UTC) at the Soma station, and 4.2 meters at 4:52 p.m. (07:52 UTC) at Oarai.


The U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) reported a wave with maximum height of 2.79 meters (9.2 feet) at an observing station at Hanasaki, Hokkaido, at 3:57 p.m. local time (06:57 UTC). Other PTWC reports of tsunami waves include:


1.27 meters (4.2 feet) at 10:48 UTC at Midway Island

1.74 meters (5.7 feet) at 13:72 UTC at Kahului, Maui, Hawaii

1.41 meters (4.6 feet) at 14:09 UTC at Hilo, Hawaii

0.69 meters (2.3 feet) at 15:42 UTC in Vanuatu

1.88 meters (6.2 feet) at 16:54 UTC at Port San Luis, California

2.02 meters (6.6 feet) at 16:57 UTC at Crescent City, California


NASA Earth Observatory image created by Robert Simmon and Jesse Allen, using earthquake and plate tectonics data from the USGS Earthquake Hazard Program, land elevation data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) provided by the University of Maryland’s Global Land Cover Facility, and ocean bathymetry data from the British Oceanographic Data Center’s Global Bathmetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO). Caption by Michael Carlowicz.


Instrument: Seismograph


To download the full high res file go to:


Credit: NASA Earth Observatory


NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission.


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  • What _I_See 4y

  • Timucin 'Tim' Kantar 4y

    'subduction zone interface plate boundary between the Pacific and North America plates'

    All continents are pushing against eachother. We are like small organisms living on some number of cracked spherical biscuits.

    Our hearths are with our Japanese friends..
  • Mexycan 4y

    heartfelt sympathies and prayers for Japanese people
  • Jamie Ball PRO 4y

    The incredible power of nature can never be underestimated. Condolences to the Japanese..
  • monicaflick 4y

    Heartfelt condolences to all the Japanese.
    I had the honour of visiting Japan in 2001 and was so imressed by the courtesy, kindness & hospitality of the people...
  • Kevin Moore PRO 4y

    So sad today watching video on CNN, People writing "HELP" in English on roof tops and "SOS" in the parking lot of a hospital, as the news helicopters circle
  • Mike PRO 4y

  • Ken_Lord PRO 4y

    "occurred as a result of thrust faulting on or near the subduction zone interface plate boundary between the Pacific and North America plates."

    ... I think this was a freudian slip (sorry for the pun) in anticipation for when the same type of quake strikes the west coast of North America one day. Obviously the North American plate was not involved in today's quake, the pacific plate subducted under Japan.

    Although it would be interesting to know how the change in tectonic stress under Japan would affect the subduction zone on the North American side.
  • eroberts718 4y

    WOW, prayers ARE being said for Help
  • Σταύρος PRO 4y

    amazing and also sad !
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Taken on March 11, 2011
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