Tectonic activities create beautiful landforms that can be captured by cameras (like many of the images found in The Frontier Channel’s planetary science entries) but on a planet teeming with life forms such activity can be devastating.
During the morning of December 26, 2004 a magnitude 9.0 earthquake rocked the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Northern Sumatra, part of the country of Indonesia. The earthquake itself caused great damage and death in Indonesia, but it was the resulting tsunamis that spread the devastation to at least 11 countries as far away as eastern Africa. The earthquake is the largest to hit the planet Earth in 40 years and one of the largest known since earthquake records have been kept.
The epicenter of the earthquake was located under the Indian Ocean on an active tectonic zone where one plate of the Earth’s crust is subducting into the mantle under another plate. The two plates have been building up energy at their contact surface deep underground and some of that energy was released as the plates slipped catastrophically. When the energy wave spread up through the ocean, it caused a wave surge, a tsunami, that traveled rapidly across the ocean before making landfall.
There is currently no infrastructure in place in the region to warn inhabitants of incoming tsunamis. Many victims could have been saved with as little as 15 minutes warning. Such events are a reminder that much remains to be learned about tectonic activities on the Earth and how to lessen their impact on life and property.
All the major media outlets are providing continuing coverage of the earthquake and tsunamis’ aftermath. Coverage is also coming from local bloggers, people in the affected areas providing Internet weblog “you-are-there” images and updates of the event. The recent emergence of “citizen journalism” through online personal journals (blogs) has never been more evident.