Archives for : quake

Thin fault zone, slippery clay behind gravity distorting quake

Had a story published in New Scientist about research at the quake subduction zone revealing weak geological factors at the fault zone being behind the massive quake that hit Japan’s northeast in 2011. It sounds as though this is one of those “duh” moments, but methods used to come to this conclusion are truly groundbreaking, involving deep-sea drilling more than

Photo shows the Chikyu (Earth) deep sea research vessel docked at Shimizu port in Shimizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan on 11 Sept. 2013. Photographer: Rob Gilhooly. All rights reserved.

800 meters below the seabed at the subduction site, which itself is over 7 km below the water.

The research was conducted aboard the Chikyu deep-sea research vessel (pictured right), which I recently boarded when it docked a couple of months ago — a fascinating experience in itself and one I shall be writing about.

 

Using the data collected from the site during research that began in early 2012, three papers were published in the peer-reviewed Science journal by a team of international scientists.

The first is about the geology of the fault zone and the main result found there is that the fault zone is only about 5 meters or less thick. “That’s fairly unusual and different from what we have observed in other subduction zones. Usually in the 10s of meters or more,” researcher James Mori told me.

The second paper is about measuring the friction of the fault using the core sample of the fault zone material and putting it in a machine that simulates an earthquake and measures the friction. The main result from that paper is the friction is very low due to a huge presence of called smectite — a a slippery clay that is often found to be at the centre of large landslides in Europe. “That means the fault slips very easily during the big earthquake,” Mori added. “Essentially this is the first time such material has been taken from a big subduction zone earthquake so it’s really a brand new result.”

The third paper relates to temperature measurement taken using devices that were placed in the boreholes earlier this year. This too was designed to measure friction. Essentially the same results were found as from other core sample experiment, meaning researchers had two very different ways of estimating the friction. Both  gave about the same level of what is called the “coefficient of friction”. In this case the COF was about 0.1, which is very low — most rocks slip at a COF of about 0.5 or 0.6.

“So one of the ways of applying this is to say that subduction zones that have especially thin fault zones with a lot of smectite potentially can produce these very large slips of 50 meters and potentially could produce very large tsunamis,” said Mori. “That’s not to say that … if there is no smectite there is not going to be big tsunamis — that’s not a good conclusion.”

A separate report utilised data taken from the European Space Agency’s GOCE satellite that showed the March 2011 quake had been “felt” in space and distorted gravity over time.

Tsunami 6 months after 1

Some of the photos taken during assignments up in Tohoku around the time of the 6-month anniversary mark of the March 11 quakes and tsunami. More photos can be found here

Suicide in Tohoku

 

Story published in Japan Times about suicides resulting from the Tohoku disasters. Online version can be found here

This was a tough topic to cover. I found it particularly difficult because the so-called “kokoro no care” groups that are apparently providing counseling support for survivors simply refused to talk (I tried arranging interviews with groups from Osaka, Kita Kyushu, Akita and Aomori). At first I thought this was purely because of the delicate nature of the subject, but after talking with a psychiatrist back in Tokyo about this I was left with a different impression. The care groups simply have little to say because they are terribly underused, the doctor suggested.

The reason may be simple. Having spent my first few Japan years in the Tohoku region I am aware of the stoic (some, like Nobel novelist Natsume Soseki, even say stubborn) nature of  the people there, many of whom would not want to share their personal troubles with others — outsiders, especially. What’s more, I am told by Japanese doctors/psychiatrists and other experts that psychiatric care here is not as developed as in some countries in the West. “The national government pours millions into tackling Japan’s perennial suicide problem, but seems to fail to actually look at the roots of that problem,” said one.

Depression is a huge suicide trigger in Japan — the national police statistics show that. But there seems to be little effort made to tackle the issue at that level. So, instead of highly trained psychiatrists (of which there are few) we have money thrown at municipalities who spend it on “don’t do it” poster campaigns.

Another anecdote connected with this: For some years I have been documenting Japan’s notorious suicide forest (photos relating to this here), where dozens of Japanese go to kill themselves each year. Of the original measures considered to buck this trend, one of the more seriously considered ones was ….. to build a wall around the forest.

I think that just about sums it up really. Ok, so it didn’t come to fruition, but the message was pretty clear. Build a wall, and people won’t come to OUR prefecture to kill themselves. Fortunately we have some individuals who think differently than the powers in government. Hence the notices at the entrances to the forest asking people to think twice. And below a number to call to talk over your troubles.

The suicide issue here bothers me, not because the numbers are so high, but because nobody really seems to care. One suicide “expert” once asked me: “Don’t you think these people have a right to take there own life?” My answer: “Of course. But wouldn’t it be nice if they also had the right to choose to get help first?”

My six pen’orth for the day …

 

 

3 months on

11 June, 2011: Keiko Komabayashi, 82, bows in prayer as her community observes a minute's silence in commemoration of those who lost their lives 3 months before on March 11

Back up in Tohoku researching a couple of stories and continuing photo projects. June 11 marked the 3-month anniversary of the quake and tsunamis and I visited Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture to see how the day would be marked there. While many places along the way, such as Otsuchi, were considerably improved, Kamaishi seems to have changed little this past couple of months.

A man walks past a battered bath house in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, on 11 June. Photos: Robert Gilhooly

Residents — most of them elderly — at one shelter were particularly aggrieved about the continued lack of some lifeline services. It seems that there is still no running water and in some parts of town electricity and or lighting. I spoke with Mrs Komabayashi (pictured) and she said she would be moving into a temporary accommodation “soon” though she didn’t seem so delighted as she is on her own. The city official I spoke with said they were preparing special temporary housing for elderly people — especially those without family. However, the speed, or lack of, at which the temporary facilities are being built and made available  is certainly a cause of some dissatisfaction among residents. The official explains it by saying that unlike in some places where the prefectural government is charged with the recovery effort, in Kamaishi (and Ofunato) it’s the city that must clean up the mess and rebuild.

Before and after (well, after and even more after really)

A few photos from this series documenting the progress in the recovery operations. Some places are evidently more advanced in their cleanup efforts that others.

Survivors tales

Above slideshow shows some of the survivors of the quake and tsunamis in the Tohoku region of Japan. The Guardian’s Justin McCurry put together a collection of short stories of some of these survivors which was used by the paper as a two-page spread in the G2 section.

Black Cat delivery

A staffer for Kurineko (Black Cat) express delivery service delivers a parcel to a home in the tsunami-trashed seaside town of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan on  7 April 20011.   Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

A staffer for Yamato "Kuroneko" (Black Cat) express delivery service delivers a parcel to a home in the tsunami-trashed seaside town of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan on 7 April 20011. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Came back up to Iwate Prefecture last week, but have since struggled with finding accommodation, or reception for both cell

A man cycles past a cargo ship in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, Japan on  4 April 20011.

Photo: Robert Gilhooly

phones and internet. Yet, despite all that, things seem to be moving along. In Kamishi I see electrical workers erecting utility poles, while nearby a man cycles through the driving snow past a massive cargo ship that has made  a rare foray on land. On that same day electricity was restored to several places along the coast.

Meanwhile, in Rikuzentakata, also in Iwate Prefecture, I come across a superbly kept shelter inside a junior high school. Inside on a notice board there is a plan of the shelter which includes among the pristine, wood-paneled classrooms a dentist, a room for washing clothes, another for drying them, a room for the elderly, a room for those suffering from influenza, a study room for elementary and junior high school children …

But perhaps the biggest sign of improvement came  at the end of a long and very dusty day, when in the far east of the city I saw a Kuroneko (Black Cat) delivery staffer hauling a large box of frozen goods on his shoulder, passing by the wreckage of a neighborhood and delivering the goods, which had been set from central Japan, to the “doorstep” of a refugee.

“I’ll search until I find her”

Toshiaki Watanabe and his son Kenichi search through the rubble for his wife and Mother in Yoriiso Village on the Oshika Peninsula, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan on 19 March, 2011.  Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Toshiaki Watanabe and his son Kenichi search through the rubble for his wife and Mother in Yoriiso Village on the Oshika Peninsula, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan on 19 March, 2011. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

After a couple of days recuperating back in Tokyo, drove back up to Sendai yesterday and spent today going around the

A man looks out to see after spending the day looking for members of his family mega-tsunami that hit Yoriiso Village on the Oshika Peninsula, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan on 19 March, 2011.  Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Oshika Peninsula. This has long been one of my favorite parts of Japan — I first came up here about 15 years ago to do a story about depopulation and will never forget an incredible journey to Kinkazan, an island that lies just off the southern tip of the peninsula a couple of years later. It all bares little resemblance now, of course, with entire villages having being swept away by the tsunamis that raged through these parts on March 11. According to the Japan Meteorological Agency this whole peninsula shifted a massive 5.3 meters to the southeast after the quake and tsunamis and sunk about 1.2 meters. Local residents that I met said that the water levels were still high, and that many of the smaller villages would likely never by habitable again.

Down on the waterfront at Yoriiso, a small fishing and marine product processing community, I came across a man and his son who were scouring the debris and skeletal processing buildings for relatives still missing. Toshiaki Watanabe told me they had been down there every day with other friends and relatives to search for his son Kenichi’s mother and grandmother — his wife and mother.

A photo of a kimono-clad woman floats next to a tire in the bay at Imeshi village on the Oshika Peninsula, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan on 19 March, 2011.  Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

So far they had come across four bodies, but they were not the ones of their loved ones. Though obviously grief stricken, Toshiaki seemed relatively calm, even chatty, but his son was obviously in some distress. He had been in Fukushima at the time, where he worked at a nuclear facility in Soma, while his father had been in Aomori, some way north. It seems that after the quake the Mother and grandmother had gone down to the water front to help other relatives. Then the tsunami struck. “We’ll search until I find her,” he said. It suddenly struck me that, along the length of the area struck by the tsunami — which must have actually hit more than 1,000 km of coastline, in various degrees of severity — there must be thousands of similar searches taking place: beach combers combing not just for mementos and trinkets of a past life, but for diamonds of their hearts.

A photo gallery of pictures taken across the devastated region can be found here. Comments warmly welcomed.

Japan Quake II

Photo shows shattered homes and other debris that was swept inland by the 10-meter high tsunami that followed the March 11 magnitude 9 quake in Minami Sanriku Town, Miyagi Prefecture

Photo shows shattered homes and other debris that was swept inland by the 10-meter high tsunami that followed the March 11 magnitude 9 quake in Minami Sanriku Town, Miyagi Prefecture. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Today visited a coastal town in Miyagi Prefecture called Minami Sanriku that was flattened by the tsunami that followed Friday(s mag 9 quake. It was a totally horrific sight. Some 10,000 people of the 17,000 who live in the town are dead or missing, according to an official there. Met survivors who were taking refuge in a shelter on higher ground who said the  wave was 10 meters high. More images here

Japan earthquake and nuclear plant explosion

A woman weeps as she listens to the latest news on a transistor radio about the nuclear power plant explosion in Iwaki City

A woman weeps as she listens to the latest news on a transistor radio about the nuclear power plant explosion in Iwaki City

Left home this morning very early heading for Sendai, the city most affected by yesterday’s M8.8 quake. The going was slow — it took the best part of 4 hours just to get out of Tokyo. Then bluffed way onto the expressway, though officially closed. On the way I managed to get hold of a long-time Japanese friend in Fukushima and just as I called, Yosh told me there had just been an explosion at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Despite his objections, Sendai was ditched in favor of how near we could get to the plant. The roads were badly damaged and the area almost deserted but eventually made it to Iwaki, about  30 km from the plant. I came to Iwaki many times when I lived in Aizu — it wasn’t so far from where I lived — and never remember seeing it so desolate as this. Eventually found a refuge shelter filled with about 300 distraught refugees. Many had been taken there from communities close to the plant. The government had decided to evacuate anyone living within a 20 km radius of the explosion. Eventually found refuge in another ad hoc shelter, from where I am now sending this blog. The area may be deserted, and homes wrecked by yesterday’s tsunami, but we can still get online … More photos here

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