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The devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Northern Japan on March 11, 2011 led me to enlighten myself on the nature of these natural disasters. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake occurred near the island of Honshu and is known as the fifth largest ever recorded in Japan. The combined forces killed thousands, moved planes, trains, and cars, overtook homes, killed power sources, leaving Japan in a state of utter despair. To top it all off, as rescuers scurried about digging through rubble in the desperate and courageous attempt to help those buried beneath, the nuclear power reactor explodes, leaking high levels of radiation.
For the most part, an earthquake occurs when tectonic plates grind against each other. Tectonic plates, or masses of rock that look like puzzle pieces, are constantly in motion due to the heat found in the earth's core. At times they rub together which impedes their motion. When this happens, it causes stress, and, thus, releases energy in the form of seismic waves.
Disturbances, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, lead to a deformation of the seafloor that upsets the equilibrium of the water. Once this happens, it produces powerful shockwaves that travel up to 600 miles per hour (about as fast as a jet). It's not as noticeable in the deep ocean, but as it nears shallow water, the waves can rise up to 100 feet.
Sand-Dollared Cataract by Sofia Mitchell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.