Wilfred D. Iwan
Emeritus Professor of Applied Mechanics
California Institute of Technology

The Tohoku Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011


The Tohoku Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011 will be remembered as one of the greatest natural disasters of recorded history. A magnitude 9.0 earthquake along the Japan Trench, the largest ever recorded in Japan, was followed by a devastating tsunami. Measured ground accelerations of approximately 3g were followed by a tsunami wave with a height of nearly 40 feet. Tens of thousands of people were killed and many more were left homeless. A damaged nuclear power plant at Fukushima lost backup power and the ability to circulate cooling water. Explosions occurred and radiation was released as heroic workers attempted to control reactor damage. Thousands of homes were destroyed and many businesses were unable to continue operation. Office workers as far away as Tokyo were left stranded after the event when trains and subways were shut down.
This event has been referred to as a Super Catastrophe (Super Cat) by the financial industry because of its enormous effect on the people and economy of the region. Current estimations of the total damage are in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Manufacturing capacity in Japan has been seriously affected, and it will be years before electrical power from lost nuclear plants can be restored.
What were the causes of this disaster? Should they have been anticipated? What, if anything, could have been done to mitigate the effects of such an earthquake and tsunami? How well did engineered structure behave? How will this event affect the future of seismicity and earthquake engineering? What will engineers do differently in the future to protect critical facilities from such hazards? These questions and others will be addressed in this lecture.


Friday, September 23rd, 2011


2:15 PM EST

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