Japan Tsunami Left Behind Huge Underwater Dunes
NASA/Jesse Allen, using data provided by Tony Song (NASA/JPL)
An image from an animation using satellite data of the March 11 tsunami shows how the waves of the tsunami were influenced by seafloor features. Wave peaks appear in red-brown, depressions in blue-green, and seafloor topography is outlined in gray.
April 19, 2012 --
Forty years ago this week, the crew of Apollo 16 captured this image of Earth rising above the lunar landscape. The Apollo missions enabled humanity to see for the first time our planet as it appears from space. As Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell once said: “When I was orbiting the moon and could put my thumb up to the window and completely cover the Earth, I felt a real sense of my own insignificance. Everything I'd ever known could be hidden behind my thumb.” As we approach Earth Day on April 22, we look at the efforts of people throughout the ages to explore, understand and portray our world and its place in the Universe.
Trustees of the British Museum (image rotated
Babylonia Believed to be the earliest known representation of Earth, this stone tablet from Babylon shows the world as a disc, surrounded by a ring of water called the "Bitter River." The world is dominated by the area surrounding Babylon itself, and the Euphrates River bisects most of the inner circle. Unearthed in southern Iraq in the late 1800s, the tablet is housed in the British Museum.
Sixteenth-century interpretation of Ptolemy's
Celestial Spheres In his 2nd century treatise, the "Almagest," Claudius Ptolemy proposed an explanation for the apparent movement of stars and planets, in which Earth was central and immovable, and surrounded by, at progressively greater distances, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and a sphere of ‘fixed stars.’ This geocentric view of the cosmos did not meet its first real challenge until Copernicus proposed that the planets revolved around the Sun, and Galileo used his telescope to observe the phases of Venus.
Library of Congress, via the History Blog
Flat Earth The Greek philosopher Aristotle determined that Earth was spherical and not flat almost 2,500 years ago. The notion of a flat earth retained at least a few die-hard devotees for a surprisingly long time. For example, this 1893 map by Orlando Ferguson, recently acquired by the Library of Congress, cites “Scripture that condemns the globe theory” and promotes a book that “knocks the globe theory clean out.”
ANALYSIS: What if Earth Were a Cube?
De Costa, B.F. (September 1879). "The Lenox G
Lenox Globe It is popularly believed that ancient cartographers filled in unknown and unexplored areas of the world with the phrase ‘Here be dragons’. In fact, only one known ancient map – the so-called Lenox Globe, which is believed to date to around 1510 - displays the phrase ‘HC SVNT DRACONES’, from the Latin “hic sunt dracones.” (The phrase is written near the equator on the eastern cost of Asia.) Some nineteenth-century writers, however, believed that it referred, not to dragons, but to the ‘Dagroians’, a people who “feasted upon the dead and picked their bones.”
PHOTOS: Sea Monsters Real & Imagined
Image Database of the Kano Collection, Tohoku
Terra Australis Incognita In this copy of a 1602 map that was created on behalf of China’s Wanli emperor by Italian Matteo Ricci and collaborators, the familiar outlines of most of the world’s continents are coming into shape, although obviously many details remain unfinished. To the map’s makers, however, the likes of Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica are not even figments of the imagination, replaced instead by an enormous southern landmass. The notion of an unknown southern land – a terra australis incognita - was first mooted by Aristotle in 322 BCE; not until 1820 did Fabian von Bellingshausen become the first man to see the Antarctic continent.
South Pole For centuries, gaps in maps were filled by explorers who set out across land and sea, often at immense personal risk. The true nature of “Terra Australis” had long been established by the time Robert Falcon Scott and comrades stood at the South Pole on Jan. 17, 1912; but existing knowledge could not diminish the terrible toll the conditions exacted on the men. “Great God!” wrote Scott in his journal, “this is an awful place.” All five members of Scott’s polar team died before they could reach their base camp.
PHOTOS: Forgotten Discoveries of Scott's Antarctica
Moscow at night Time and technology have enabled us to explore, not just across the surface of the globe or even beneath its waves, but from on high. Here, Moscow is seen at night from the International Space Station, flying at an altitude of approximately 240 miles on March 28, 2012. A solar array panel for the space station is on the left side of the frame. The Aurora Borealis, airglow and daybreak frame the horizon.
Pale Blue Dot In contrast to earlier suppositions about our place in the firmaments, we know now that our globe is not at the center of the cosmos, and that other celestial bodies are not attached to interlaced spheres that rotate around us. We are but one world among many, in one solar system among many, in one galaxy among many. In this image, taken by the Voyager I spacecraft from a distance of 4 billion miles, Earth is but a speck – a pale blue dot – in the cosmic night.
NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
Blue Marble If satellite images of Earth now seem almost routine, they never lose their ability to enthrall. This picture of the western hemisphere was captured on January 25 by NASA’s latest Earth observation satellite, Suomi NPP. By February 1, it had registered over 3 million views on Flickr – testament to the beauty and fascination of our Blue Marble.
PHOTOS: Earth's Blue Marble Beauty
The giant earthquake that devastated Japan in 2011 reshaped the seafloor, forming unexpectedly large underwater dunes and possibly dramatically influencing Japan's marine ecosystem, researchers have found.
The new findings, detailed online Jan. 1 in the journal Marine Geology, hint that clues about past tsunamis could be found on the sea bottom.
The magnitude-9.0 Tohoku-Oki temblor that struck in March 2011 was the most powerful earthquake to hit Japan in recorded history, strong enough to slightly alter the pull of gravity under Japan. It then set off a tsunami that lay waste to the coast of the northeastern part of the country, triggering a crisis at the nuclear power plant at Fukushima, a combination that may be the first "complex megadisaster" the world has ever seen.
Twenty days after the tsunami, researchers went out in ships with sonar rigs for a four-day emergency field survey to judge the impact of the tsunami on the seafloor and see whether large ships could safely come into Kesennuma Bay about 55 miles (90 kilometers) northeast of the city of Sendai. The inner bay is usually calm, and is used as a port of refuge during typhoons. The maximum height the tsunami reached — a towering 66 feet (20 meters) — was seen west of the bay.
"Originally, this survey was not purely a scientific one, but was conducted to support tsunami-affected peoples," said researcher Kazuhisa Goto, a geologist at Tohoku University in Japan. "There were many floating pieces of debris, and we still had a threat of tsunami generation by aftershocks."
Research had revealed the tsunami had dramatic effects on Japan's coast, but it remained uncertain whether tsunamis in general could affect much deeper areas of the seafloor — for instance, by creating deep underwater dunes. (7 Craziest Ways Japan's Earthquake Affected Earth)
Now Goto and his colleagues find the 2011 tsunami did in fact generate large underwater dunes, the first direct evidence that tsunamis can rework sea bottom sediments.
"We hadn't expected the presence of such dunes," Goto told OurAmazingPlanet.
The researchers scanned areas of the sandy, silty seafloor about 30 to 50 feet (10 to 15 m) deep. They found dunes up to 65 feet (20 m) long and 6 feet (1.8 m) high. No dunes were seen in the area in surveys of the seafloor before the 2011 tsunami.
"On land, thicknesses of the tsunami's deposits were usually only about 30 centimeters [12 inches], but on the shallow sea bottom, it was meter-scale," Goto said.
It remains difficult to say how many dunes the tsunami might have created.
"The tsunami wave current was very strong and I would not be surprised if dunes were formed across the entire bay, plus slightly deeper areas, but some of them may have been erased since then by normal post-tsunami wave activity," Goto said.
The fact that the tsunami drastically altered conditions on the seafloor should affect Japan's marine ecosystem. "Future monitoring of the marine ecosystem is highly required," Goto said.
Past tsunami evidence
These findings also suggest that geological evidence of past tsunamis may be well-preserved on the seafloor, helping shed light on how often an area might experience tsunamis in the future, and how powerful those killer waves might be.
Usually scientists look for such evidence on land, but in urban areas, such traces are often destroyed as people reshape the earth there, making it difficult to see what tsunami risks those cities might face, Goto explained.
"We may try to drill deeper in the dune field to find geological evidence of past tsunamis," Goto said.
More from OurAmazingPlanet:
Waves of Destruction: History's Biggest Tsunamis
Tracking Japan’s Tsunami Debris (Infographic)
In Pictures: Japan Earthquake & Tsunami
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