Sendai Isn’t Unique: Is the Pacific Northwest Next?


The March 11 Sendai Earthquake (M 9.0), tsunami and nuclear meltdown has hopefully impressed most people with the enormous power and destructiveness of a major subduction zone earthquake (i.e., a quake where one tectonic plate moves forcibly under another).

Initial calculations have found that the epicenter of the quake was 32 km (19.9 miles) down and 129 km (80 miles) away from the City of Sendai. The Sendai Quake resulted from thrust faulting on or near the Japan Trench Subduction Zone (“JTSZ”), the plate boundary between the Pacific and North America plates.1 In the vicinity of the epicenter, the Pacific plate moves westwards and under the North America plate (and Japan) at a rate of 8.3 meters (27.4 feet) every 100 years.

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