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From time to time, various parts of the world undergo unfortunate tragic events, natural disasters, which are caused by the uncontainable forces of nature. Natural disasters include avalanches, lightning, tsunamis, tornadoes, volcano eruptions, floods, and hurricanes. Wildfires are also part of natural disasters although most of them often start due to human play. Therefore, in pursuance of knowledge to learn more about natural disasters, this paper will focus on the 2004 Sumatra and the 2011 Japan tsunamis, exploring on the comparisons and contrasts of the science behind these events and the contribution of technology to their occurrences. Additionally, it will also outline the impacts of these two tsunami events to the society.
According to the International Tsunami Information Center (2017), tsunamis can be described as, “a series of enormous waves created by an underwater disturbance such as an earthquake, landslide, volcanic eruption, or meteorite. A tsunami can move hundreds of miles per hour in the open ocean and smash into land with waves as high as 100 feet or more.” Hence, tsunamis are ocean waves that originate from earthquakes or underwater landslides. On that note, in regards to these two catastrophic events, the Sumatra tsunami was the first to occur as it happened back in December 26th, 2004, while the Japan tsunami happened much later in the year 2011. The Sumatra Tsunami, an earthquake with an estimated 9.1-9.3 magnitude, struck off the West coast of the Indonesian Sumatra Island at 00:58:50 UTC. It is believed that the tsunami emanated from a subduction of around 1200 km of the border between the Indian Ocean and the Burma tectonic plates that are off the west coast of the northern Sumatra. Scientists explained that the India plate, which moves about 5 to 5.55 cm per year in a northeastward direction relative to the Burma plate, caused a subduction of the Indio-Australian Plate below the Eurasian Plate, making the seafloor to uplift and displace water above sea level. The epicenter was at 3.298 N, 95.779 E, while its focal depth was less than 33km. It created an estimated energy release of about 1.1×1017 joules on the earth surface, making it the third largest earthquake ever recorded, as the largest of them all happened back on May 22, 1960, in Chile. The wavelengths were as high as 25 meters tall. The event caused more than 84 aftershocks that had magnitudes ranging from 5.0 to 7.0 in Northern Sumatra, Nicobar, and Andaman Islands (Pararas-Carayannis, 2005). The tsunami’s destructive power was indicated by shaking of buildings in Bangkok, Thailand 1,242 miles away from where the quake happened. It killed more than 230,000 people (Oskin, 2017).
On the other hand, the Japan Tsunami occurred at 05:46 UTC on March 11, 2011, off the Pacific coast of Tōhoku in Japan. It is also called Great Sendai Earthquake or Great Tōhoku Earthquake. The earthquake which had a 9.0 magnitude was caused by the rupture of a stretch of the subduction zone, which lies between the Eurasian plate and the Pacific plate. The epicenter was located about 130 km east of the Sendai city, with a focus depth of almost 30km below the floor of the western Pacific Ocean. It happened that a portion of the subduction zone of about 300km long by 150 km wide reeled for an approximated 50 meters towards the east-southeast and thrust upwards nearly 10 meters. Even though it was not as severe as the 2004 Sumatra tsunami, it was also a destructive one as it caused severe damage to infrastructures and more than 120,000 buildings were destroyed. As of June 10, 2016, about 15,894 people had died as a result of the tsunami. The tsunami also caused a cooling system failure at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (Oskin, 2017).
The 2004 Sumatra tsunami caused more fatalities as compared to the 2011 Japan tsunami tragedy because the monitoring system lacked basic equipment such as the telephone line needed to relay warning signals on the impending disaster. As such, it was impossible to even for the United Nations to issue a warning to the Indian Ocean nations, 15 minutes after it detected the tsunami in their seabed pressure sensors and seismographs. On the other hand, the Japan nation had an active earthquake warning system that prevented many deaths to occur, since the natives of Tokyo received a cautioning before the quakes smashed the city. That is, the strict seismic building codes and the early warning system enabled the closure of high-speed trains like the Shinkansen bullet trains, as well as the shutting of earthquake prepared elevators and factories (Vervaeck & Dr. Daniell, 2017). Additionally, the residents received text alerts on their cell phones, a factor which enabled people to prepare for the second shockwave (Oskin, 2017). Therefore, during the two events, technology played very different roles. As in, lack of communication equipment in the monitoring system caused more people to die in the Sumatra tsunami, which was contrary to the Japan tsunami as the employment of the early warning system and delivery of warning texts helped save lives.
Even though it was at varying degrees, both tragic events led to devastating impacts on the society and unfortunate loss of human lives. For instance, the Sumatra tsunami caused the death of more than 230,000 people and displaced almost 1.7 million of people in over 14 countries in Southeast Asia, while the Japan tsunami killed 15,894 people as of June 10, 2016 (Oskin, 2017). However, they both produced solid waste and disaster debris that proved hard to dispose of in suitable environmental manner. Of the two events, the Sumatra tsunami caused a more human loss because it occurred in an area with high-density population, where it struck with maximal force. Also, it produced aftershocks that were higher regarding wavelength, thus impacting more people on the affected areas. Moreover, there was no warning communication from the authorities so that people could evacuate the prone areas. In terms of economic loss, the Japan tsunami takes the lead, as its direct financial damage emanating from the disaster is approximated to be around $199 billion, with the total economic cost expected to elevate up to $235 billion, while the direct financial damage of the Sumatra tsunami is estimated to be $20 billion, which could rise to $35 billion. Japan’s projected economic cost is higher because their nuclear plants were highly damaged. Various governments donated almost $6.25 billion in a bid to help the struck Sumatra tsunami victims, while as of the year 2012, the donations to the Japan disaster totaled to 520 billion Yen (Jiji Press, 2012). As observed, it is recommended that the society should ensure that there is a warning system in each ocean, especially near the tectonic plates. It should also conduct more awareness campaigns that educate the people on the signs of an oncoming tsunami and how to avert the dangers of the earthquakes.
In summary, the paper has compared and contrasted the 2004 Sumatra and the 2011 Japan tsunamis, which emanated from a subduction of their respective tectonic plates. The Sumatra tsunami had a megathrust of 9.1 while the Japan tsunami had a magnitude of 9.0. They both caused loss of human lives, with the 2004 one causing more than 200,000 deaths, while the latter caused almost 15, 000 deaths. The death toll of the Japan tragedy was lower because they had warned their residents about the early warning system, and texted alerts on their cell phones. Therefore, it is advisable that the society gets educated on the causes, signs, and ways to prepare for national disasters such as these, besides ensuring that there are warning systems in the oceanic regions.
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