This morning's Japanese earthquake (11th March 2011 at 05:46 GMT) measured 8.9 on the Richter scale. That is very powerful, and in an average year there is only one quake more powerful than 8.0 anywhere in the globe.

At its source, it was over a thousand times more energetic than the magnitude 6.3 quake that struck Christchurch on 22 February.

USGS map showing the 11th March earthquake Copyrighted image Credit: USGS
USGS map showing the earthquake

This one occured about 25 km below the seabed, and the displacement of seawater caused a series of tsunami waves capable of causing far more damage than the on-land ground shaking.

Parts of the eastern coast of Japan have already been inundated, but there is a tsunami warning in force across most of the Pacific basin. For example,the first waves are expected to reach Hawaii 19 hours after the earthquake.

This earthquake was a consequence of the floor of the Pacific ocean being dragged under Japan as a result of plate tectonic movements.

It was preceded by a nearby magnitude 7.2 quake on 9 March and there was a magntiude 7.1 aftershock at 06.25 GMT.

The 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in the Indian ocean was caused by a magntide 9.1 earthquake where the floor of the Indian ocean is dragged below Sumatra.

Tokyo streets following the Honshu earthquake Creative commons image Credit: japan_style under CC-BY-NC licence
The normally busy streets of Tokyo fall silent following this morning's earthquake. Photo by japan_style.

Find Out More

USGS report on the earthquake

Understand more about the power of the planet with The Open University course Volcanoes, Earthquakes and Tsunamis.