Here’s an excellent article by U of T geology professor Nick Eyles, explaining the geological context for the earthquake last week, how it fits into the history of earthquakes in Japan, how these earthquakes have affected Japanese culture (including an influence on Japanese rejection of Western building styles, and hence to some degree of Western culture in general). I love the way he connects a number of different issues. He ends the piece with some observations about predicting earthquakes in Canada.

There’s an interesting parallel with climate prediction here: seismologists can calculate the expected frequency and trends in seismic activity, and hence advise people on what they should do to minimize the risk to people and infrastructure. But they can’t predict the timing or size of any specific earthquake. Likewise, climate scientists can understand the trends and the overall impact of climate change on different regions, but they can’t say exactly when specific consequences will be felt, nor when particular extreme events will happen. In both cases, failure to take the advice seriously will dramatically worsen the impact when a disaster does occur.

2 Comments

  1. It is a very interesting article. My slight objection is that the modern Japanese building style based on iron-reinforced concrete is neither the traditional Japanese nor imported western one, but an innovation.

    It reminded me another thought. There was a great development of computational geophysics in the latter half of the 20th century, including both climate modeling (Manabe, Arakawa, Kasahara), meteorological data assimilation (Sasaki, Miyakoda) and quantitative seismology (Aki, Kanamori), largely contributed by Japanese-American (born in Japan and emigrated to the USA) scientists. They made innovation by amalgamating the oriental tradition of precise numerical computation and the western tradition of rigorous logical mathematics. (I have not yet substantiated this interpretation, though.)

    Another minor correction to Dr Eyles’s article: the official name of the weather service of Japan (also responsible for operational seismology) is Japan Meteorological Agency (http://www.jma.go.jp ), not “Assocication”. Confusingly, there is another entity called Japan Weather Association (http://www.jwa.or.jp ) which has contracts with JMA as well as with other institutions. JWA operates the web site http://www.tenki.jp which shows JMA’s forecasts.

    The IODP ship “Chikyu” got some damage in its equipment by the earthquake, and its scientific operation will be rescheduled after repair, says a press release of JAMSTEC (http://www.jamstec.go.jp/e/about/press_release/20110317/ ).

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