Visualizing the Quake

Visualizing the Quake

On Friday afternoon, when most of us in the US were still sound asleep, Japan was rocked by the largest earthquake in it's history. Registering at a phenomenal 8.9 on the Richter scale, it is the strongest ever recorded on the island nation, and one of the largest anywhere in the last century, according to reports from the New York Times. The quake stirred up a 10-meter high tsunami that went crashing along Japan's northeastern coast, taking the lives of an estimated 1,000 people — though that number is still in flux, and could easily rise in coming days. Meanwhile, on eastern side of the epicenter, the roll of seawater churned, at jetliner speeds, towards the Hawaiian and the California coasts.

This visualization, just released from the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, shows the estimated size of the tsunami — the approximate wave heights that researchers anticipated seeing as the tidal wave traveled across the Pacific basin Friday morning. The largest wave heights, shaded in black, were expected near the earthquake epicenter, just off the coast of Japan. If their models were correct, the wave would decrease in height as it traveled across the deep Pacific, but would also grow taller as it neared coastal areas.

According to NOAA, "in general, as the energy of the wave decreases with distance, the near shore heights will also decrease (e.g., coastal Hawaii will not expect heights of that encountered in coastal Japan). A second image provided by NOAA illustrates the depth of the Pacific Ocean floor. Comparing the two, you can see how low wave height tends to correlate with deeper areas of the ocean. An animated view can be seen here.

As reports of the combined quake and tsunami aftermath continues to unfold, we would like to challenge you — our design community — to visualize this fearsome natural disaster. We're looking for clear, informative, and original visualizations that elucidate any aspect of the event. We're interested in both the earthquake and the ensuing wave — in other words, you might focus on either phenomenon or a combination of the two. You may focus solely on the Japan quake, consider the deeper context of quake/wave history, or think about the broader scope of all natural catastrophes. From Richter scale stats to casualties incurred, tidal wave heights to billions of dollars spent on disaster relief, we hope you'll explore all the data mining possibilities.

Background Information

Why reinvent the wheel? We gladly point you to the excellent earthquake resource list compiled by The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal.

See also Al-Jazeera Blogs and Reuter's Live Coverage.


To get you started, we've provided the following sources:

USGS Earthquake Data

See also:

USGS Earthquake Lists & Maps for US and World data on: Deadliest Earthquakes, Largest Earthquakes, Earthquake Frequency, and more.

NOAA Tsunami Data

Realtime Data

  • Latest event message for North America's West and East Coasts, and US Gulf of Mexico Coasts (from WC/ATWC)
  • Latest event messages for Hawaii, all U.S. interests in the Pacific outside the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center area of responsibility, most countries in the Pacific and around its rim. Includes Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. (from PTWC)
  • Realtime and Retrospective data from DART Tsunami Buoy Data - from NOAA

See also:

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Wallet's picture

Amazing image, scary to think of the consequences of it.