Researchers at the URI seismology lab, led by Yang Shen (GSO) and Brian Savage, have created a computer simulation of the March 11 Japan earthquake using a 3-dimensional wave speed model of the earth’s crust running on a supercomputer cluster. To help to visualize the details of the earthquake, the team created a short movie that shows five minutes of shaking after the earthquake. The movie, posted on the seismology lab website, shows the ground rising and falling as the energy of the earthquake passes. The tsunami is not shown in this simulation. The blue circles depict the location of Tokyo.
Simulations like this help in understanding seismic hazards, earthquake processes and crustal structure. The Cascadia subduction zone, extending from northern California to southern Canada, has a tectonic structure very similar to the feature that generated the Japan earthquake and tsunami. An earthquake in the Cascadia subduction zone that is similar in intensity to the Japan earthquake would cause significant damage to Seattle, Vancouver and other locations along the northwest coast of North America. Geological and historical evidence show that a 9.0 magnitude earthquake (the same magnitude as the Japan earthquake) occurred in the Cascadia subduction zone in 1700.