Scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California figured it out. The reason is that the earth changed with last Friday’s earthquake. It’s a little smaller. So, like a figure skater tightening in a spin, the spin goes faster.
“No one’s going to have to reset their atomic clock or their alarm clock over this one,” said The US Geological Survey’s scientist in-charge Harley Benz.
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Benz works at the Earthquake Information Center in Golden. It’s not likely because things like the sloshing oceans have the same effect. But it’s part of a change. The earth’s axis has changed a wee bit too.
“It just wobbles slightly differently mostly because you had a big earthquake that rang the earth.”
And do you feel the waves? You won’t in Colorado. But they’re still there. An earthquake is like the sounding of a bell that continues to reverberate long after the fault slips or pops.
“The surface waves from this earthquake will be going around the earth now and being recorded by our instruments for probably well over a month,” said Benz. “Our sensors up in Idaho Springs will be recording a surface wave for this for probably two or three weeks.”
The magnitude 9.0 earthquake, Benz told us while we were talking that he was about to up the official strength of the earthquake from an 8.9 to a 9.0 because further number crunching led to a better definition of its power, was the fifth most powerful earthquake recorded since the beginning of the 20th Century. The longstanding changes to the earth are painfully obvious in Japan.
“The main island of Japan, Honshu where Tokyo sits, that actually moved permanently.”
Along the east coast parts of Honshu moved about 12 feet closer to the United States. The earthquake sent the North American plate the extends a finger down over the northern half of Honshu over the Pacific plate that runs north and south off the east coast of Honshu. But while it did that, Honshu dropped, as much as two feet. Theoretically, that made the tsunamis worse. But could they be much worse with wave heights of up to 30 feet? It will make things worse as Japan attempts to rebuild.
“There are local areas where people have built things, villages and other things that are probably going to have to be abandoned now because of this permanent drop,” said Benz.
But there’s more change surely to come. The thing that worries geophysicists most is what the movement did miles away from the center of this earthquake.
“On other faults you’ve increased the stress. So the time at which it takes to build up enough stress is now shortened. So there is a long term danger from this earthquake to Honshu,” said Benz.
It’s like the setting of a spring. Where is not clear. But Japan is a hive of constant earthquake activity.
“What we’re really worried about is large aftershocks and perhaps another big earthquake occurring on the edge of where this one occurred,” said Benz pointing to the ocean off Tokyo.
While earthquake experts cannot predict earthquakes, they can look with worry at an area of the world that has clearly suffered enough.
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