Japanese earthquake and tsunami – Expert Reaction

A tsunami has struck the coast of Japan following a magnitude 6.9 earthquake, with further tsunamis expected.

The Australian Science Media Centre gathered expert reaction – please feel free to use these comment in your reporting.

Professor James Goff, is Director of the Australia-Pacific Tsunami Research Centre and Natural Hazards Research Laboratory, University of New South Wales.

“A strong earthquake has struck off the coast of Japan in the same general region that was affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. What we do know is that the highest wave so far has been about 90 cm and that the evacuation process has been running efficiently.

“In general, with the size of the earthquake experienced, I would not expect any wave to reach the heights of those experienced in 2011, but that does not mean that this event will not be damaging. Tsunamis as small as 90 cm can be extremely damaging and so in a sense, we are ‘watching this space’. In this modern age of media communications we are now able to watch live TV coverage and gauge the nature and extent of this event. One concern is not necessarily the size of the earthquake itself but whether or not it might generate submarine landslides that can themselves generate large tsunamis.”

Associate Professor Dale Dominey-Howes, disaster risk management expert at the University of Sydney

“Today’s event is much smaller than the 2011 catastrophic event. The earthquake may be an aftershock of the 2011 event. It has affected the same region as the 2011 event

“A regional tsunami has been generated – smaller than 2011 but still potentially dangerous. People who live in the region have been advised to evacuate with authorities taking no chances after the 2011 disaster.

“Residents in the region are still struggling to recover from the 2011 event resulting in compound socio-psychological impacts on survivors. Aftershocks will continue in the region for days to weeks to come.”

Paul Somerville is Chief Geoscientist with Risk Frontiers at Macquarie University

“This earthquake was a normal faulting earthquake that occurred at a shallow depth within the plate that overlies the Tohoku subduction zone, which generated the 2011 Mw 9.0 event. It indicates east-west extension within the overriding plate, presumably due to the relaxation of horizontal stress that built up before the 2001 event. It occurred about 30 km offshore of Fukushima and generated a 60 cm tsunami. It is very unlikely that this earthquake will have a large impact on Japan.”

Dr Don Higson is a retired nuclear reactor safety specialist and member of the Australian Nuclear Association

“The recent earthquake off the coast of Japan, near Fukushima, should remind the world that the real harm from such events is from structural, economic and social damage and apprehension, whereas most people outside the immediate area will remember the great earthquake of 2011 for its cause of a nuclear power plant disaster at Fukushima Daiichi – a disaster that did not lead to any discernible injuries due to radiation exposure. The harm caused by the nuclear plant accident was almost entirely in two forms: deaths, injuries and social disruption due to evacuation and other emergency actions that were largely unnecessary; and psychological damage due misinformation and fear of radiation.”