Japanese Earthquake. Richter Scale And Others.

Measuring the force. Measuring the response.

Since the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, my inner nerd has been nagging.  I must listen.

Let’s get the first thing clear.  Nothing is off the Richter Scale.  It doesn’t go from 1 to 10.  It’s open-ended.

Now let’s get the second thing clear: they don’t use the Richter Scale any more.  Instead, they use the Moment Magnitude Scale, but since this produces almost the same readings it makes no difference, so everyone still talks about the Richter Scale.

Both scales measure the shaking amplitude of the quake, which is the distance the continental plate moves back and forth, and the scale is logarithmic to base 10.  This means that every step in the scale is a multiple of 10, so that  a quake measuring 7 on the Richter scale has an amplitude ten times as much as a quake measuring 6.  A quake measuring 8 has an amplitude 100 times as big.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there.  The destructive capacity of the quake is raised to the power of 3?2.

Therefore, a quake measuring 7 on the Richter scale has a destructive power over 30 times that of a magnitude 6 quake.

Put this in context.  The Sendai quake was 8.9 on the Richter scale while the recent quake in New Zealand was 6.6.

You might think that the Japanese quake was about 50% stronger, but you’d be wrong.  It had a destructive power nearly 9,000 times as much.

The whole thing is a cruel geological joke.

People live on the earth according to the space available.  On the Pacific rim, they live on the peaks of submerged mountains, which we call Japan, Hawaii, Indonesia, New Zealand and thousands of others.   They settled on the Pacific peaks because they had nowhere else to go and they did their best.  But unfortunately, when you live in a place like Japan, a submerged mountain on the edge of one of those gigantic plates that are constantly pushing and shoving against each other, you really are at the cutting edge.  Literally.

Japan leads a precarious existence, as we saw over the last few days.  Long before it became a technological society, it was being hammered by gigantic, unstoppable forces of sea and earth.  Long before it had nuclear reactors to threaten destruction, Japan looked out at an ocean that might at any moment rise up and smash it to pieces.  That must surely define the nature of any people.

We all know about the conformist tendency in Japanese society, where the nail that stands up is hammered down – a strength and a weakness in one – but perhaps an inevitable consequence of living in such an uncertain predicament.  The Japanese people have developed the capacity to respond to enormous adversity.  Japan is the only country in history that has been struck by nuclear bombs, and it responded by becoming, within 20 years, one of the most powerful economies on the planet.  That’s resilience.

On the other hand, Japanese society has an awareness of civilisation that we can only envy.  Despite all its adversities, Japan’s society has never become as brutalised as ours in the West.

Some people will point out that the Japanese way of dealing with conquered people and captured enemies has been brutal in the extreme, and I won’t disagree with that.  This is not a post about how perfect Japanese society is.  It has many faults, but the Japanese still understand why tradition is important, unlike us.

I believe that if our land happened to be struck by a catastrophe like the recent earthquake and tsunami, we would not pull together.  I think it would be every man for himself, and I think our criminal class would see it as an opportunity to steal and rob like never before.



33 thoughts on “Japanese Earthquake. Richter Scale And Others.

  1. ” I think it would be every man for himself, and I think our criminal class would see it as an opportunity to steal and rob like never before.”
    Ah that’s very unfair on the bankers and their dogs the politicos Bock, have they not already cleaned us out or will they come back to pick the carcass clean.
    hopefully they (criminal class) would be the ones under the rubble and we could leave them there.

    On as serious note, this could end up as one of the largest environmental disasters in the planets history. Japan has little enough arable land as it is and the sea is vital for their economy.If the reactor melts down, huge areas of the land and sea could end up out of the food production chain for a very long time.
    Japans coastal seas are already some of the most polluted in the world, with very high concentrations of mercury, and dioxins found in the sea life.

    Fingers crossed that they can avert a major disaster in the nuclear plant, though from the sounds of it it may already be too late.

    On the subect of criminality, Japanese society is not exempt, corruption and white collar crime is higher there than in Ireland (transparency international). While street crime is low, it does still occur and is on the increase and no society is immune. But saying that, Japan as one of the most ordered societies on the planet will in all probability not see the levels of criminality you would expect to see in other societies hit by such a disaster.

  2. (Stealing and robbing), as did happen to some degree in Haiti – roaming, looting mobs (well, maybe not mobs, but it sounds better).

    This is really upsetting me, and your post got me to want to research this a little more.

    To see just how open ended the Richter scale is, see the comparison chart at:


    Each integer increase (8 to 9 for example) is 10x greater, so each 0.2 increase (two 10ths) is double the power! So for example, from the chart, last year’s Chile earthquake was 8.8, producing 238 megatons (that’s millions of tons) of TNT power; last week’s Japan earthquake was 9.0 (average there between the 8.9 and 9.1 that I’ve seen), so it was TWICE as powerful, or 476 megatons. The Nagasaki atomic bomb at 5 Richter was only 474 tons, meaning that Japan’s earthquake was almost exactly one MILLION times as powerful as its bombing! The asteroid impact suggested to have caused the Cretaceous -Tertiary (K-T) mass extinction 65 million years ago* would have been a 12.5 Richter, or 100 trillion tons – more than 200x this earthquake. A recent starquake** (!) was 23 Richter – that’s 4.2 followed by 29 zeros of tons. Inconceivable.

    The largest recorded starquake occurred on the ultracompact stellar corpse (magnetar) SGR 1806-20. It released gamma rays equivalent to 1036 kW in intensity. This starquake occurred 50,000 light years away; had it occurred within ten light years of Earth, it would have caused a mass extinction.[1]

    It’s all a lot of numbers, but the main point is that a lot of people just died suddenly, and a lot of the country is in ruins. Damn. Condolences to all those affected. And let’s hope that it won’t be as bad as Nollaig says it could.

    Although the Richter Scale is open ended, it becomes practically unreliable for larger earthquakes:

    Because ML was not designed to to be applied to data with distances to the hypocenter of the earthquake greater than 600 km, its values become unreliable when the earthquake is larger than 7 and Richter’s original method is no longer applied.[3]

    Now they use the Moment Magnitude Scale instead, which gives similar results, but is more reliable for larger earthquakes.

    * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cretaceous%E2%80%93Tertiary_extinction_event

    ** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starquake_(astrophysics)#Starquake

  3. Each full integer increase is ten times the shaking magnitude, but 31.6 times the destructive power.

    An increase from magnitude 8.9 to 9 means the earthquake was 41% more destructive than originally thought. However, I’m sure the people who were swept away by the wave or whose lives are at risk from radiation couldn’t give a rat’s ass what magnitude the quake was.

  4. Absolutely. It’s a terrible tragedy. Never thought that one 10th could be so big. They only had a few minutes warning. There’s a video of cars driving on a road, stopping in front of the tsunami, and then getting swept away with it. It’s just terrible.

    God must really be angry about something. How can people believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing and benevolent God when things like this happen? These people must either be really evil, or they’re in for a really big heavenly portion.

    Or, it just happened…

  5. Watching the scenes of destruction is heart breaking. I had to give out to someone I was watching some of it with yesterday.. He was laughing at it and commenting like it was an action movie.. I said ‘ you are watching people dying there, you know’.

    The Japanese are very resilent people and will pull through this, as would people from any nation really, when it’s called for.

  6. I hear many Americans on Facebook are saying it’s retribution for Pearl Harbour. It seems these people never heard of Nagasaki or Hiroshima.

  7. I know this awful but …. I was watching Sky News in Oz for details of the disaster. The permanent headline was ‘Japan Quake kills hundreds’. Unfortunately the Sky logo covered the first two letters so the headline actually read ‘pan Quake kills hundreds’. I know, I know ….

  8. Knuckleheads. The people saying that. Probably listening to your mano, what’s his name Pat Robertson. Didn’t he have similar sentiments on the Haitian earthquake, that were written about here.
    Fucking quacks. Judgemental people trying to make sense of things with their pee brained idiocy.

    Some1, I find your talk of a god being really angry at something a little simplistic.. I would imagine a lot of believers in a god don’t believe the casualties must be “evil”.

  9. Isn’t technology a great thing? Sitting in Australia monitoring a disaster in Japan and commenting about it on an Irish website. It’s like the Matrix with drink.

  10. Retribution retributed by whom? They must be religious people.

    FME: I think you missed my sarcasm there. Especially since the next sentence asks how anyone can believe in such a God.

    If the casualties are not evil, then what are they? Paying for their ancestors’ evil? Actually, there’s a Jewish tradition that when the angel of death does his thing, innocent bystanders can be caught in the crossfire. So he must be doing a big thing over there – or just has really bad aim.

  11. I didn’t miss the sarcasm Some1.. but saying people believe in that type of a god is not what I think people believe in, or that logic follows that if you believe in a god, nothing bad ever happens. I’ve no interest in getting into a tedious debate with you about religion/god.. but you can believe in a god and know that death awaits us all and some people have even more faith when stuggling with adversity.

  12. Well, I don’t understand your last line there, specifically what the third part about some people has to do with whether God actually exists or not. And it’s a little surprising that someone should think that they know what all other people’s beliefs really are. But since you don’t want a tedious debate, I guess we should stop right now, and let your’s be the last word, eh? ; )

    Just one point: I’m not talking about any ol’ god here: if you do believe in Omni-God, then bad things NEVER happen – because it’s all part of God’s plan, so everything is good, at least ultimately. Tell that to all the natural disaster victims and their surviving relatives and friends.

  13. I’m not saying I know what other peoples’ beliefs are… there’s quite a few people on the planet to know their true beliefs. What I’m saying is, if people believe in a god, I don’t necessarily think it follows that anything bad that happens proves there mustn’t be a god. I mean even writing it for me sounds ridiculous. We’re flesh and blood, living.. we will experience pain and will die. The facts of that don’t preclude an existence of a god, or peoples’ belief in one, in my opinion.

    If you think a believe in a god or omni god is illogical, as bad things do in fact happen.. that’s your belief and you’re entitled to make sense of things your own way.. but I don’t think you can talk for others – which it seems you are doing.. Not me! :)

    No not everything is good. The worst of things seem to happen to the best people more often than the other way around. “Things”, don’t seem to be a walk in the park for a lot of people.

  14. Are we having a tedious debate? ; )

    saying people believe in that type of a god is not what I think people believe in

    does not seem to consistently lead to

    I’m not saying I know what other peoples’ beliefs are

    – but maybe I’m just misunderstanding you.

    You are still equating any god that is believed in to omni-god. Any god could allow evil, or not be able to do anything about it. Not omni-god, which is the god of the western scriptures.

    Pain and death is not the same as severe, lasting pain and slow and/or horrible death, which happens as in Japan just now, and which omni-god should be able to prevent. That he doesn’t, according to the Epicurean Paradox, implies that he doesn’t therefore exist.

    “Existence of a god, or peoples’ belief in one” are two VERY different things. People can believe a lot of things that don’t necessarily correspond to reality.

    I don’t think you can talk for others.

    I think that it’s pretty well accepted that believers in the Abrahamic God believe that, among other things, he is Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnibenevolent. Those are all attributes listed in the sidebar at


    The question could be asked whether people would really believe that if they thought about it, but I don’t think that that’s the question you’re asking. And your last paragraph expresses very well an aspect of the Problem of Evil, which pretty much precludes such a God.

    If I don’t respond right away, it’s due to the body portion of me needing some sleep, not a succumbing to tedium! : )

  15. Not the debate itself being tedious Some1, but the harping on the same point being tedious. Sorry.
    I know what I said.. there’s no need to quote me.. I did say, I’m not saying I know what other peoples’ beliefs are. What I mean is, I don’t think a lot of believers see it the way you are seeing it. That’s my opinion. I would imagine a lot of people don’t think oh something bad happened, there mustn’t be a god.
    I guess if you view death as ‘evil’ or ‘bad’ then I see where you’re coming from. As the budda said though, all life is suffering. And I’m not undermining anything that’s happening out there saying that.
    “You are still equating any god that is believed in to omni-god”. I’ve never heard of a prayer to “omni god”!

    “Existence of a god, or peoples’ belief in one” are two VERY different things. People can believe a lot of things that don’t necessarily correspond to reality.” Get out. You’ve missed the point I made. I said because we’re flesh and blood and will suffer, doesn’t preclude the existence of a god or a person’s belief in a god.. Where did I say they are the same thing? I didn’t. Where did I equate reality with people’s beliefs? I didn’t.

  16. What surprised me was in the aftermath of the earthquake how difficult it is to predict the Tsunani waves across the Pacific.Here in the Philippines we were put under Tsunami alert for that evening with the wave expected to cause considerable destruction in the low lying areas.Many people moved to high ground.However when the wave came it was not much larger than a normal large wave and caused no serious damage.I would have thought with modern technology and satelites it would be possible to predict with accuracy the size and power of the wave when it makes landfall.However it seems not,predicting a Tsunami is still very much hit and miss

  17. nollaig @ 1…I find it very hard to believe that Japan has a higher corruption and white collar crime rate than Ireland.I dont know how groups like transparency international arrives at its conclusions but I suspect conviction rates play a large part.Well in that case Ireland would appear to be squeaky clean as early retirement, fat payoffs and pensions are the only punishments for that type of crime there

  18. William,
    I’m not sure how they arrive at it either, I will check out their site and see how they arrive at it.but it is a widely accepted model and a respected organization Though this week the earthquake has done the prime minister a favour, there were calls last thursday for him to resign for accepting monies from a forign national. But these pale into insignificance due to the scale of the disaster.
    One other point, through out the ninties and early teenies the police force was racked by allegations of corruption, falsifying records and under reporting of certain crimes.

  19. I don’t view death as evil or bad – why do you think that? I just think that if God (capital G, Abrahamic bible omni-version) can prevent unnecessary suffering and doesn’t, then he’s either not omni-God, or he doesn’t even exist. People don’t usually call it “omni-god”, but that IS who they are praying to, since that is the definition of said capital G God.

    We don’t need Buddha to tell us that life is suffering. What he did is give us a way of how to deal with it, which involves karma and reincarnation, and is therefore not essentially so different from theistic belief systems in that respect. People who don’t believe in any life after this one deal with it by accepting that that’s just how it is, and live (or die) with it as best as they can. Seems more realistic to me.

    I may have missed your point in #14 about the belief in and existence of a god, but you did imply that they equally related to the fact of the reality of pain and death, or at least that’s how it sounded. Unnecessary and extreme pain and death obviously don’t preclude people believing in God, but they very well do seem to preclude that God’s existence. You said that they don’t preclude either – that’s all I was pointing out.

  20. Right, that’s what I said.. that they don’t preclude either.. existence or belief.
    It does seem to preclude existence for you, that’s fine. That’s your opinion. Budda didn’t give karma and reincarnation as a way to deal with suffering. He spoke of something to do in this life.. detachment from your desires and wanting to overcome suffering. The third noble truth speaks of this.

    I don’t know what you think is evil.. but you keep saying the word. Death, suffering.. I don’t know.

  21. From what I said or implied before: evil is unnecessary, extreme, severe, lasting pain and slow and/or horrible death. A human or divine being that causes those or can at least prevent them but doesn’t, seems rather evil to me. Will respond to the rest later.

  22. Believers of all kinds make all kinds of rationalisations of trauma, often to defend themselves against a feeling of powerlessness, a feeling that often emerges from childhoods that were somewhat less than the empathic child-mother bonding process mandated by our natural biology – oxytocin, seratonin vs cortisol and adrenaline… the greatest power disparity in human relations is that of the parent-child. The powerlessness the child feels in a situation where that power is used adversely must be suppressed for the child’s psyche to remain somewhat intact. It does not go away. It lies hidden, until it is recognised and to a certain extent metabolised.

    I have written a piece on my blog on an interaction I had yesterday with a ‘believer’ who claimed that the Japan event was due to the ‘materialistic’ lifestyles of the Japanese – which I noted was similar to blaming a woman for being raped because of the clothes she wore, or similar to that odious New Age regurgitated Karmic ‘choice’ that children make to be abused int his life to ‘learn lessons’. That ended the interaction. Immediately. Oh dear!

    These were the believers words :

    “I feel sorry for them, even if they are blind, they must be so scared… it really is time now for the people of the world to sit up and take notice of the truth, and stop the accelerated head on collision with our own destruction… I was told today that in Japan they are very materialistic and into the acquisition of material things, blinded to spiritual life, I wonder where in the world will be hit next? in the run up to 2012”

    What came to me, as I felt into this interaction for it’s layers of meanings, was that these rationalisations are de-humanising and at their root, pure selfishness

    The Hubris of the Good..

    Others make their rationalisations to diminishor ignore their culpability in criminal behaviour – Betrie Ahern, Charles Haughy, all the Popes, Maggie Thatcher, Tony Blair, George Bush, Hitler, Stalin etc etc.

    Political and Economic Power mirrors that adult-child power dispraity. Unfortunately, most Political and Economic Power Institutions make very bad parents.

    What is happening in Japan is dreadful, truely horrific and pretty much unavoidable: that does not, for me at least, diminish the real pain and suffering of each of those caught up in it – however that cannot be said of the events unleashed by those leaders I mentioned above and their ilk. Those were and remain avoidable.

    And in both paradigms, it will always be people, good people, who pick up the pieces and do their level best to get on with life.

    And the nasty will try to benefit, in opportunistic ways, as Naomi Klein wrote so eloquently in her tome “Shock Doctrine”.

    We are, as human beings, as natural organisms, resilient. There are, of course, limits to that resilience.

    The ‘irish Famine’ was not a famine – it was an act of genocide. One of many on this Island.

    We are not omni-potent. The concept does not exist outside of the ‘believers’ mind-set.

    And we do have a choice about how we respond to what life and Power throws at us.

    Burn the Bond-Holders. etc etc

  23. Good comment! So you’re saying that Many/most believers are just trying to replace the empathetic parent relationship that they didn’t have, with God? But a lot of believers do come from loving families – how do you explain that?

    An example of a somewhat less than the empathic child-mother bonding process (and of a very long headline!):

    ‘The worst case I’ve ever seen’: Judge jails U.S. woman for 20 years for abusing 2-year-old daughter on web-cam as teenager watched in Britain”


  24. I started it – sorry. It’s just that events like this make belief in God much harder if not impossible. That’s what I’m thinking about, and this is where I thought I could talk about it. But if you say enough, then enough!

  25. More on topic:


    Responsibility to the community”

    No looting has been reported. Some of the Japanese do complain about their ‘weak’ government but they do not come out to stage a protest against it or to quarrel among one another in ways that would exacerbate the crisis. Instead, we see residents trying to help one another and young Self Defence Force members carrying old people on their backs to safety,” said a Bangkok Post editorial.[250]

    “The morality of the Japanese society is amazing. Not one mention or incident of looting or violence. Everyone lines up. Wait your turn to enter the store. Store employees are extremely courteous and kind,” wrote a Japanese-American friend of Marianne Kushi of NBC.[251]

    A reporter for the The Globe and Mail wrote, “As one catastrophe piled on top of another, a very Japanese deference to authority emerged, as well as a national desire to see civility prevail, no matter the circumstances.”[252]

  26. Not so much about belief, the comment was about rationalisations, and how what appears rational to certain people can often create irrationalities.

    There’s a rather wonderful book entitled “The McDonaldization of Society ” that explores this.


    Those who impose ideology or attitude or anythin tend to also ‘believe’ in their right to do so.

    And beleiver have this unerring willingness to deny anything that runs counter to the belief, because belief is most often an internalised process, such that the belief becomes part of the believers core identity, and thus that which runs counter to the belief is experienced as undermining the self of identity, and that generates fear.

    It’s all rather unbelievable.

    And the results all too often toxic.

  27. WHO has SEEN the Graph, that it was a 9.1 on the Richter Scale?????
    Where was the Earthquake, NOT out at Sea, but Inland at 6.1, less then New Zealand 6.6…Compare 31.6 damage in 10 that means the 6.1 is .5 less, that shows in Japan 15.8 less damage>>>HOW?
    Look at the Tsunami 45 min. after this GIANT EARTHQUAKE?
    Notice people are still going about their business as a usual small quake.
    Notice none of the tall buildings lost glass, or fall over…WHY?
    There were only 3 quakes of less then New Zealand.
    The Tsunami came from SEA caused by WHAT? There was no warning till it hit, since it was not expected from a 6.1 land quake.
    SOMEONE please show the 9.1 Graph, and where it was.

    Look at the Fukushima plant, it was safe, like Three Mile Island, till internal damage was done by Sabotage.
    Of the 10 backup generators only one could have saved the day , and it was still running.

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