Special: The Tohoku-Oki Earthquake, Japan


The 11 March 2011 magnitude-9.0 Tohoku-Oki earthquake off the eastern coast of Japan was one of the largest recorded earthquakes in history. It triggered a devastating tsunami that killed more than 20,000 people and an ongoing nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

This collection contains the early research and continued coverage of scientific insights into the mechanics of the Tohoku-Oki earthquake and its consequences for Japan.


Latest Coverage

Report | 6 December 2013

Structure and Composition of the Plate-Boundary Slip Zone for the 2011 Tohoku-Oki Earthquake

The Tohoku-oki earthquake occurred along a thin, clay-rich fault zone in the basal strata of the subducting plate.
Report | 6 December 2013

Low Coseismic Friction on the Tohoku-Oki Fault Determined from Temperature Measurements

Rotary shear experiments reveal the frictional properties of clay-rich material recovered directly from the fault zone.
Report | 6 December 2013

Low Coseismic Shear Stress on the Tohoku-Oki Megathrust Determined from Laboratory Experiments

A temperature anomaly of 0.31°C indicates coseismic friction was extremely low during the earthquake.
Perspective | 6 December 2013

Dangers of Being Thin and Weak

Ocean drilling data show that the large trench-breaching rupture of the 2011 Tohoku–Oki earthquake occurred along a thin and weak fault zone.



Report | 8 February 2013

Stress State in the Largest Displacement Area of the 2011 Tohoku-Oki Earthquake

Borehole stress measurements indicate a nearly total stress drop in the region of largest slip.
Review | 9 March 2012

Nuclear Fuel in a Reactor Accident

Report | 10 February 2012

Propagation of Slow Slip Leading Up to the 2011 Mw 9.0 Tohoku-Oki Earthquake

Two sequences of slow slip preceded and migrated toward the main rupture.
Report | 17 June 2011 Free Access

The 2011 Magnitude 9.0 Tohoku-Oki Earthquake: Mosaicking The Megathrust from Seconds to Centuries

Data from land-based GPS receivers and tsunami gauge measurements have been used to model the motion and extent of the earthquake. (published online 19 May)
Report | 17 June 2011 Free Access

Shallow Dynamic Overshoot and Energetic Deep Rupture in the 2011 Mw 9.0 Tohoku-Oki Earthquake

Spatial variation in the earthquake's rupture controlled both the strength of shaking and the size of the tsunami that followed. (published online 19 May)
Brevium | 17 June 2011 Free Access

Displacement Above the Hypocenter of the 2011 Tohoku-Oki Earthquake

GPS and acoustic data reveal very large seafloor movements associated with the quake directly above the focal region. (published online 19 May)



Perspective | 23 August 2013

Megacity Megaquakes—Two Near Misses

Seismicity patterns after large earthquakes suggest that the earthquake hazard can rise sharply in areas well beyond the mainshock rupture zone.
Perspective | 26 October 2012

Fishing for Answers off Fukushima

Radionuclide levels in fish off Fukushima are highly variable but remain elevated, indicating a continuing source of radiation.
Policy Forum | 8 June 2012

A Safer Nuclear Enterprise

Strong regulation and peer review are needed, particularly in nations new to nuclear power and weapons.
Perspective | 1 June 2012

Tracking the Fukushima Radionuclides

Ongoing radionuclide monitoring and tracking efforts are required following the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
Editorial | 9 March 2012

Worldwide Lessons from 11 March

Brevia | 2 December 2011

The 2011 Tohoku-Oki Earthquake: Displacement Reaching the Trench Axis

Vertical and horizontal displacement that occurred up to the Japan trench likely contributed to formation of the tsunami.
Policy Forum | 16 September 2011

Preventing the Next Fukushima

Weak authority and largely voluntary standards limit global institutions' impact on nuclear safety and security.
Policy Forum | 2 September 2011

The Overlooked Back End of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle

The recent accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant reinforces the need for renewed thinking about nuclear-waste storage and disposal.
Letter | 5 August 2011

Fukushima Research Needs World's Support

Perspective | 17 June 2011

A Tale of Two Earthquakes

Networks of GPS detectors can provide a detailed picture of the dynamics of earthquakes before, during, and after the event.


News Coverage

News & Analysis | 7 June 2013

Accelerator Leak Halts Japanese Physics Experiments

After a delay in reporting a small radiation leak, Japan's J-PARC accelerator center has been shut down indefinitely; some are concerned about the impact on physics research.
News Focus | 10 May 2013

Insistence on Gathering Real Data Confirms Low Radiation Exposures

The massive evacuation and strict monitoring of food appear to have successfully limited the amount of radiocesium ingested by Fukushima residents.
News Focus | 3 May 2013

The Pacific Swallows Fukushima's Fallout

The Tohoku disaster had one unprecedented impact: an enormous amount of radiation was deposited in the ocean.
News & Analysis | 13 July 2012

Commission Spreads Blame for Manmade Disaster

A commission set up by Japan's parliament last week blamed Tokyo Electric Power Co. and government regulators for what it called the "manmade" disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
News & Analysis | 8 June 2012

Growing Distaste for Nuclear Power Dims Prospects for R&D

On 28 May, a Japanese governmental advisory body laid out options for the mix of energy sources in 2030, along with projected effects on the economy and carbon dioxide emissions.
News Focus | 9 March 2012

One Year After the Devastation, Tohoku Designs Its Renewal

Taking stock of the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, experts are planning communities that should be more resilient the next time disaster strikes.
News Focus | 9 March 2012

Radioactive Limbo

While the tsunami-ravaged Tohoku region plans its recovery, contaminated areas around the Fukushima Daiichi power plant are a no-man's land that may remain deserted for decades.
News & Analysis | 20 January 2012

A Tantalizing View of What Set Off Japan's Killer Quake

Japanese scientists combing through the vast jumble of seismic signals recorded in the days before the Tohoku earthquake have just sorted out more than 1000 newly recognized earthquakes.
News | 23 December 2011

A Disaster and a Warning—But of What?

The great Tohoku earthquake has everyone, seismologists included, wondering where the next blow will come from.
News & Analysis | 5 August 2011

Fukushima Begins 30-Year Odyssey in Radiation Health

Japanese researchers are about to launch one of the most ambitious epidemiological studies ever attempted on the effects of low-dose radiation.
News Focus | 8 July 2011

Picking Up the Pieces at Ravaged Tohoku University

Four months after the earthquake and tsunami disaster, Tohoku researchers are finding new meaning in their work.
News & Analysis | 17 June 2011

Citizens Find Radiation Far From Fukushima

Civic groups and individuals monitoring radiation released from the ravaged Fukushima nuclear power plant have produced a worrisome picture of contamination throughout eastern Japan.
News Focus | 20 May 2011 Free Access

Fukushima Revives the Low-Dose Debate

The general public avoided exposure to high levels of radioactivity, but questions linger about the long-term effects of contamination.
News Focus | 20 May 2011 Free Access

Schoolyard Radiation Policy Brings a Backlash

The Japanese government's most controversial misstep in response to the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis may have been the release of guidelines on allowable radiological contamination in schoolyards.
News Focus | 20 May 2011 Free Access

Crippled Reactors to Get Cooled and Wrapped

The crisis at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is far from over. Some 100,000 residents who were evacuated will not return home until the reactors are firmly under control.
News Focus | 20 May 2011 Free Access

New Work Reinforces Megaquake's Harsh Lessons in Geoscience

High-tech analyses of Japan's March earthquake overturn long-held views of fault behavior and warn that another disaster may be looming.
News Focus | 20 May 2011 Free Access

Seismic Crystal Ball Proving Mostly Cloudy Around the World

Failing at quake prediction, seismologists tried making fuzzier forecasts, but Japan's megaquake is only the latest reminder of the method's shortcomings.
News & Analysis | 22 April 2011

More Megaquakes on the Way? That Depends on Your Statistics

Could the earthquake that hit off Indonesia 6 years ago somehow have touched off a cluster of great earthquakes spanning the Pacific, including the magnitude-9.0 "megaquake" that just struck off Japan? And if so, has this cluster played itself out? Experts differ.
News & Analysis | 1 April 2011

Scientific Consensus on Great Quake Came Too Late

An obscure paper about an earthquake in 869 C.E. that destroyed a castle town in northeastern Japan and a subsequent tsunami that inundated the surrounding area is now at the center of a growing debate about how quickly scientific findings can and should influence disaster-mitigation policies.
News & Analysis | 1 April 2011

Pool at Stricken Reactor #4 Holds Answers to Key Safety Questions

Of all the terrible news from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, reports about the spent fuel storage pool for reactor #4 may be among the most disconcerting for scientists.
News & Analysis | 25 March 2011

Nuclear Power's Fallout

The crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, like the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, is prompting countries around the world to reassess the safety of their plants and their nuclear aspirations.

Science has created a map that provides a snapshot of the number of nuclear reactors in operation and under construction worldwide, locations of power plants in relation to seismic hazard zones, and reactions to events in Japan in some countries.

News & Analysis | 25 March 2011

Radiation Risks Outlined by Bombs, Weapons Work, and Accidents

Risk calculations for radiation exposure are based heavily on a 63-year study of 94,000 people who survived the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in August 1945. It is one of the largest, longest population studies ever done; for radiation safety, it is the gold standard.
News & Analysis | 25 March 2011

Candidate Radiation Drugs Inch Forward

Over the past 5 years, a few promising candidate drugs designed to ward off the effects of radiation exposure have begun to undergo animal, and even human, testing. Still, only a few companies and academic groups are addressing this unmet need.
News & Analysis | 25 March 2011

Current Designs Address Safety Problems in Fukushima Reactors

Nuclear reactor designers say that the reactors being built or planned today are quite different—and they say much safer—than those that are still smoldering in Japan.
News & Analysis | 25 March 2011

Fukushima Cleanup Will Be Drawn Out and Costly

The Fukushima cleanup operation is likely to resemble the protracted cleanup at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania, where one reactor experienced a partial meltdown in 1979.
News & Analysis | 25 March 2011

Japan's Research Facilities Down But Not Out

Japan's scientific community has been quietly taking stock of how extensively the magnitude-9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami on 11 March damaged facilities and experiments. The news is mixed.
News & Analysis | 18 March 2011

Devastating Earthquake Defied Expectations

The astonishing power and unexpected location of last week's devastating earthquake in Japan expose the futility of forecasting where and when the next Big One will hit, geophysicists say.
News & Analysis | 18 March 2011

Waves of Destruction

Most deaths and much of the destruction from last week's powerful earthquake in Japan were the handiwork of the tsunami: Many victims knew the waves were coming but could not escape or didn't try until it was too late.


Science Insider

Japan Earthquake: The Aftermath

Continuing coverage of the crisis in Japan, including reports from the ground, global reaction, and the science behind the disaster.