Monday, 2 April 2012

Research team releases new quake intensity maps for Tokyo

Tokyo could experience more intense shaking in the event of a magnitude-7 earthquake than has been previously forecast, according to a new intensity distribution map released by the science ministry on March 30.

According to a project team at the ministry that has been modeling the potential consequences of an earthquake centered directly under the capital, the intensity of shaking in Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture could reach the maximum 7 on the Japanese scale. While magnitude is a measurement of the energy released by the earthquake regardless of its depth, the "shindo" scale reflects the degree of shaking on the ground.

Previous maps made by the government's Central Disaster Management Council have never forecast that such quakes could register a 7 on the shindo scale, but the most recent map suggests that such intense shaking could hit Edogawa, Koto and Ota wards in Tokyo, as well as Kawasaki and Yokohama in Kanagawa Prefecture. Moreover, almost all of Tokyo's 23 wards could experience shaking of at least an upper 6 on the shindo scale.

The disaster council had previously projected that an earthquake on the Tachikawa fault could cause shaking that would reach an intensity of 7, but it had not said the same for a quake with an epicenter in the bay.

The ministry's team studied the subterranean structure of the Tokyo metropolitan area and found that a plate boundary capable of generating earthquakes was around 10 kilometers closer to the surface in some places than previously assumed by the disaster council. A shallower epicenter usually increases the intensity of shaking on the ground.

However, because of the complexity of Tokyo's subterranean structure, it is difficult to predict exactly where a quake will strike.

According to Kazuki Koketsu, a professor at the Earthquake Research Institute of the University of Tokyo and a member of the project team, "The entire southern Kanto region should prepare for the possibility of strong shaking from a quake directly under Tokyo."

The disaster council has produced maps for quakes with 18 different epicenters. Although there is no definite evidence that a quake has struck directly under Tokyo bay before, it was included in the modeling experiments because of the potentially catastrophic consequences on the capital.

Provisional calculations based on previous assumptions showed that around 25 million people would feel shaking of an intensity of at least lower 6 on the shindo scale.

The disaster council has predicted that in a worst-case scenario, a quake centered in the northern part of Tokyo Bay would kill 11,000 people and cause 112 trillion yen ($1.4 trillion) of damage.

In a different simulation conducted by researchers at Chiba University and other institutions, the arrival of rescue workers from areas west of Tokyo would be greatly delayed because of liquefaction under roads. Adachi, Itabashi, Kita, Shinagawa and Ota wards in Tokyo would be worst hit by such delays.

The latest study also calculated much greater damage to homes and infrastructure from a quake hitting the northern part of Tokyo Bay.

A total of 390,000 wooden homes would be totally destroyed, with 34,000 water pipes damaged. The worst-hit areas are likely to be Naka and Tsurumi wards in Yokohama, Sumida and Koto wards in Tokyo, and Chiba city's Chuo Ward in Chiba Prefecture, where the cities of Urayasu, Ichikawa, Funabashi and Ichihara will also be badly affected.

While the disaster council previously estimated that running water would be almost completely restored within four days of a major quake, the project team estimated that it would take two weeks to restore 70 to 80 percent of the water supply and sewage services.

The government has estimated that the southern Kanto region, which Tokyo is in, has a 70-percent chance of being hit by a magnitude-7 quake within 30 years.

The science ministry has compiled four different intensity distribution maps based on three different epicenters in northern Tokyo Bay, as well as for another quake centered between Chiba and Ibaraki prefectures, where quakes have struck in the past.

The intensity distribution maps have been posted to the science ministry's website at: (

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