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Learning from the Tsunami in Japan


While the recent earthquake off the coast of Japan and subsequent tsunami cannot be linked directly to climate change, the aftermath provides important lessons for the countries worldwide regarding climate-induced disasters.

As Christopher Mims at Grist points out:

“Melting ice masses change the pressures on the underlying earth, which can lead to earthquakes and tsunamis, but that’s just the beginning. Rising seas also change the balance of mass across earth’s surface, putting new strain on old earthquake faults.” As ice caps melt and oceans rise, we could see many more earthquakes as fault lines become more stressed.

As Bill McGuire states:

“It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the loading and unloading of the Earth’s crust by ice or water can trigger seismic and volcanic activity and even landslides. Dumping the weight of a kilometer-thick ice sheet onto a continent or removing a deep column of water from the ocean floor will inevitably affect the stresses and strains on the underlying rock. …[While] not every volcanic eruption and earthquake in the years to come will have a climate-change link… [As] the century progresses we should not be surprised by more geological disasters as a direct and indirect result of dramatic changes to our environment.”

Following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration released an article warning all members of coastal communities to be prepared for tsunamis, as well as be knowledgeable about the warning signs and warning systems already in place.* March 20-26, 2011 was declared Tsunami Awareness Week and the NOAA generated a website dedicated to Tsunami Awareness.

Watch following video on Tsunami Awareness, from NOAA:

Tsunami Awareness | NOAA

To learn more about Japan and its history of earthquakes and tsunamis, especially in the region recently affected, check out this interview between Yale e360 and Geophysicist Lori Dengler.

Interested in disaster relief efforts in Japan? offers “Google Crisis Response,” aggregating a variety of information such as donation opportunities and alerts into accessible location. The Google page can be found here.

Author: The Collaborative Institute for Oceans, Climate and Security (CIOCS)

The Collaborative Institute for Oceans, Climate and Security is distinguished by its focus on the intersections of oceans, climate and security, and emerging associated policy and management implications. Founded at UMass Boston in January 2010, the Collaborative Institute exists to develop and communicate high-value intellectual, policy, and technical expertise to help stabilize the health of our atmosphere, coastal communities and marine ecosystems, and human/national security for all. It seeks on a global scale to create new strategic opportunities to bring innovation to science, policy and communications. Visionary, as well as opportunistic and flexible, the Collaborative Institute uses multi-sector engagement as a cornerstone of its work and uses public/private revenue to sustain its mission.

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