Crustal movement before and after the Great East Japan Earthquake

May 2012 | No Comment

This paper summarizes the pre-signals before the earthquake which may be important information for predicting the occurrence of earthquakes as well as the crustal movement after the earthquake

Dr Shunji Murai

Professor Emeritus, University of Tokyo, Japan
President, Japan Association of Surveyors
Honorary Member of ISPRS and AARS

Dr Harumi Araki

Head, Research Laboratory of Environmental Geology,Tokyo, Japan
Honorary Member of JSPRS

The crustal movement at GPS based control points in Japan has been recorded all over Japan before and after the Great East Japan Earthquake (M9.0) which occurred at 2:46pm on the March 11, 2011. About 20,000 people were killed mainly by the Great Tsunami of 10 to 30 meters in height.
This paper summarizes the pre-signals before the earthquake which may be important information for predicting the occurrence of earthquakes as well as the crustal movement after the earthquake. At last a case study of simulation of future catastrophic earthquakes and Tsunami which may happen in coming a few hundred years by using archeological excavation data of the past great earthquakes.

Pre-signals before the Great East Japan Earthquake

The authors presented several papers to this magazine “Coordinates” on the possibility of prediction of earthquakes with GPS data by tracing back to those big earthquakes in the past. A key point to predict earthquakes is to find or analyze pre-signals before earthquakes from GPS daily data. The authors have already analyzed 162 big earthquakes which occurred from January 1, 2000 to December 31, 2007 (eight years) with larger than Magnitude 6 in Japan and the vicinity. As the result we found that the above 162 earthquakes showed abnormal pre-signals with larger than 3 to 5 sigma of the standard deviation.

As the epicenter of the Great East Japan Earthquake was located 130 km offshore from Ojika, Miyagi Prefecture, GPS station at Ojika showed the largest movement with 5.3 meters to east south east direction and with 1.3 meters sunk. The epicenter was just at the border between North America Plate and Pacific Plate. The Japanese geodetic origin of latitude and longitude located in Tokyo, about 300 km apart from the epicenter moved about 30 cm.

Mt. Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan is located at the junction of three plates; namely North America Plate, Eurasian Plate and Philippines Plate showed an interesting movement because the great earthquake occurred at the border between Pacific Plate and North America Plate. Mt. Fuji erupted in 1707 in the nearest past just 49 days after a huge earthquake named “Hoei” Earthquake with M 8.4 (orM 9.0?) occurred in the Nankai Trough. Therefore many Japanese concern the possibility of eruption of Mt. Fuji after such huge earthquake this time. As there is only one GPS station in Pacific Plate, the crustal movement of GPS station of Minami Torishima would be interesting. Figure 1 shows the location of the three GPS stations of interest and also the four Plates.

Figure 2 shows the pre-signals of GPS data at Ojika GPS Station while Figure 3 shows the pre-signals of Mt. Fuji GPS Station. X, Y, Z and H (ellipsoid height) of GPS station are shown. If carefully watched, the movement of H shows abnormal pre-signals of more than 2 cm at Ojika on the 25th February 2011 and 8th March 2011 before the great earthquake. Similarly Mt. Fuji shows abnormal presignals on the 24th and 26th February 2011 and the 8th March 2011. It would be obvious that such pre-signals will provide very useful information about the prediction of huge earthquakes in future. GPS data at Minami Torishima (means by south bird island or Marcus Island in English) located 1,800 km from the mainland of Japan which is on the Pacific Plate shows similar movement with Ojika and Mt. Fuji as shown in Figure 4. On the 7th and 8th March 2011 just 4 and 3 days before the earthquake showed some sort of abnormal movement in H. Figure 5 and Figure 6 shows the daily change of the distance between Minami Torishima and Ojika and between Minami Torishima and Mt. Fuji. Figure 7 shows the daily change of the triangle area connecting Ojika, Mt. Fuji and Minami Torishima.

Crustal movement after the Great East Japan Earthquake

Drastic crustal movement continued almost a half year after the earthquake, by which Geo-spatial Information Authority (GSI) could not fix the coordinates of geodetic control points in Japan before the end of October 2011.

Figure 8 shows the horizontal movement after the great earthquake which was analyzed by GSI. 5.3 meters in maximum moved horizontally and 1.3 meters in maximum sunk at Ojika.

Figure 9 shows the horizontal crustal movement of sea bottom control points near the epicenter, which are constructed by Japan Coast Guard. About 24 meters moved horizontally to east south east direction and rose 3 meters vertically which generated the great Tsunami.

Assumption of catastrophic Earthquakes and Tsunami in future

The Japanese government has initiated to reconsider the assumption of catastrophic earthquakes and Tsunami which may occur in future because the biggest mistake at this time was under-estimation of the occurrence of possible disasters. There were few scientific records about the past catastrophic earthquakes and Tsunami except recent disasters. Historical documents are thought unreliable. However recently archeological excavations in coastal regions showed many evidences of multiple layers of past catastrophic Tsunamis as shown in Figure 10. Such scientific evidences are used for computer simulation to check how large earthquake and Tsunami may occur in future.
One of the most critical assumptions would be simultaneous occurrence of earthquakes in the three regions; Nankai, Tonankai and Tokai (means the south sea, the east south sea and the east sea) along Nankai Trough (see Figure 11). If such catastrophic earthquake occurs in Nankai Trough of deep ditch of 4,000 m similarly in the case of Hoei Earthquake occurred in 1707, several hundred kilometers along the pacific coasts of Japan will be devastated with great Tsunami of 39 meters in maximum, as shown in Figure 11 in blue color. Red color in the figure shows assumed Tsunami height which was assumed without scientific evidence such as archeological data. The central and local governments of Japan have just started how to prepare against such catastrophic earthquake and Tsunami in future. Maybe the best mixture of hardware (breakwater) and software (evacuation system) would be a smart solution. Most serious case would be the case of accident at nuclear power stations (NPS) which are located along sea coast. Similar accident such as Fukushima NPS might happen. Japanese nations are now given a big question; “to be with NPS or not to be with NPS?”.

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