Displacement Above the Hypocenter of the 2011 Tohoku-Oki Earthquake

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Science  17 Jun 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6036, pp. 1395
DOI: 10.1126/science.1207401

The Quake That Rocked Japan

The 11 March 2011 magnitude 9.0 Tohoku-Oki megathrust earthquake just off the Eastern coast of Japan was one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history. Japan's considerable investment in seismic and geodetic networks allowed for the collection of rapid and reliable data on the mechanics of the earthquake and the devastating tsunami that followed (see the Perspective by Heki). Sato et al. (p. 1395, published online 19 May) describe the huge displacements from ocean bottom transponders—previously placed directly above the earthquake's hypocenter—communicating with Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers aboard a ship. Simons et al. (p. 1421, published online 19 May) used land-based GPS receivers and tsunami gauge measurements to model the kinematics and extent of the earthquake, comparing it to past earthquakes in Japan and elsewhere. Finally, Ide et al. (p. 1426, published online 19 May) used finite-source imaging to model the evolution of the earthquake's rupture that revealed a strong depth dependence in both slip and seismic energy. These initial results provide fundamental insights into the behavior of rare, very large earthquakes that may aid in preparation and early warning efforts for future tsunamis following subduction zone earthquakes.


The moment magnitude (Mw) = 9.0 2011 Tohoku-Oki mega-thrust earthquake occurred off the coast of northeastern Japan. Combining Global Positioning System (GPS) and acoustic data, we detected very large sea-floor movements associated with this event directly above the focal region. An area with more than 20 meters of horizontal displacement, that is, four times larger than those detected on land, stretches several tens of kilometers long along the trench; the largest amount reaches about 24 meters toward east-southeast just above the hypocenter. Furthermore, nearly 3 meters of vertical uplift occurred, contrary to observed terrestrial subsidence.

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