Posted by admin | 04.11.2011 | Marine Science

Water Beyond Words

A month ago, we saw the truly overwhelming power of waves. We are now all too familiar with the footage from Japan, of buildings collapsing and tsunamis breaching, that we sometimes forget the simple yet awesome nature of the wave.

Most people associate waves with the ocean; while that is one form there are many others. A wave is simply energy traveling through a medium. Ocean waves travel through liquid, sound waves travel air, and seismic waves travel through solid material. Japan had the misfortune of experiencing two of these waves within minutes of each other. On March 11, an 8.9 earthquake struck off the coast of Sendai, the result of tectonic plate shifting. This wave of energy traveling through the earth toppled buildings, homes, and made road impassable. Just as things began to settle and Japan started to take a collective breath, the tsunami alarms sounded.

Tsunamis, sometimes mistakenly called tidal waves despite the absence of tidal  influence, typically result from underwater earthquakes. Here energy is transferred from the solid environment to the ocean. Tsunami, translated from Japanese, means “harbor wave”, due to their necessity to rise in height as they climb the continental shelf and run out of room. It is not surprising that Japan is the origin of this word, as they have experienced several due to their position on the Ring of Fire, a very active tectonic margin. On March 11, they (and many others around the world) were fated to experience it again as a wall of water energy, sometimes as high as 30 feet, came so quickly people had little time to evacuate.

We have all seen the results of this one-two punch. After hours of watching it on the news and reading about it online, we run the risk of becoming numb and immune to the overpowering effects of nature. If you were at all moved by the plight of those in Japan, please support one of the rescue organizations trying to rebuild Japan. In this global community, we all have a part to play. Please support rescue relief in Japan!