Tough Week in Japan: Earthquake Timelapse March 11-17
NOTE: Images with an icon next to them have been artificially shrunk to better fit your screen; click the icon to restore them, in place, to their regular size.

There have been hundreds of earthquakes in Japan in the week since the magnitude 9 quake struck at 2:46pm on March 11th. Trying to visualize their impact with simple epicenter/magnitude plots doesn't really tell you about the one thing that really matters: how much did the ground shake where you're standing?

Rather than looking simply at the epicenter and magnitude, this graphic was created using data from thousands of accelerometers around the country, to accurately represent the level of movement someone standing on the ground in each location would actually feel. This is much more descriptive than the wild guess we might make based upon magnitude, distance, depth, plate structure, ground composition, etc. No guesses need to be made because actual ground movement is measured at thousands of points across the country.

One second of video represents 1 hour of real time: each day takes 24 seconds of video. I created it at 1080x720, so it's best to view full screen at 720p.

It would be better to have music of some sort, but I can't think of anything that would be appropriate that I have rights to.

All 10 comments so far, oldest first...

This is very, very close to an idea I had myself. Seems that you saved me from the work 🙂
Actually, I would still love to try my hand at this to practice my data handling, scripting and visualization skills. I was looking around today for freely available data sources with the shindo levels and geographical coordinates included, but couldn’t really find any. Would you reveal where you grabbed those data?

It is frightening and awe-inspiring to see this explosion of geologic activity. Still feeling it once in a while here in Tokyo.

Lots of places have it, but FWIW I grabbed it from the Japan Meteorological Agency. Good luck ;-D —Jeffrey

— comment by Jonas on March 19th, 2011 at 12:59am JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

I’m sure this was a ton of work, but I really would have liked to have seen the week before the 9.0 quake charted as well. Here in New York I was following all the quake activity in the preceding days and wasn’t surprised to hear that a big quake had occurred in the same region.

I was in Japan throughout February and I don’t think there was a 5.0 quake in the country the whole time.

I have the data for a few days before, but it’s a whole lot of boring, and including it would depart from the “one week” theme. And yes, it was a lot of work, half because the data is very difficult to get, but also because I don’t know how to use the tools I had available to build the video, so in the end the method was one that Frankenstein’s creator would most certainly have approved of. —Jeffrey

— comment by jPad on March 19th, 2011 at 4:53am JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Cheers. I know that there are many more or less great web interfaces for finding the data, but I couldn’t find anything like an API or a continuously updated tsv file for download to easily get the data into a script. Doesn’t help that I still read Japanese rather slowly. But will keep digging…

— comment by Jonas on March 19th, 2011 at 9:08am JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Rather glad I don’t live on top of an earthquake prone area.
Very well done graphic!
Granted the force of the rolling wave of water did massive damage
however I wonder how much “damage” there is on the bottom of
the ocean, given the amount of visible quake related damage
on the island itself.

Suspect results of this particular quake will be visible for
many years to come. And the conmy will suffere greatly, sadly.
And for those swept out to sea, the fishes are no doubt
having a feast. We who remain will never know how many actually
died as a result of the wave action. May their souls be at peace.

First New Zealand, then Japan, what is next to shift on the Pacific Rim basin?

— comment by Bryce Lee on March 19th, 2011 at 1:05pm JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Dear Jeffrey, thank you very much for posting this very informative graphic. For those like me (in London) who really have no idea what it is like to live in a quake active area, this has really balanced up the picture. You also gave the link to the data web site, which thoughtfully runs in English as well as Japanese, and so I could look at the tsunami warnings as they panned out from 14.46 onwards. Just how little time there was for most people on that day.
Thanks once again.

— comment by Annie Robinson. London on March 19th, 2011 at 7:30pm JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

We need to just get down on our knees and pray just pray.

— comment by Michael Henson on March 20th, 2011 at 7:40pm JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

From Texas –
Here’s a USGS map that shows all worldwide earthquakes.
It’s a little disconcerting.

Thank you for the video and for all your wonderful photos.

— comment by carol wood on March 21st, 2011 at 5:16am JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

What really struck me was the way the entire northern half lights up. That is a very powerful presentation.

— comment by Bob Peters on March 21st, 2011 at 10:27am JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Hi Jeffrey

Thanks for this…. from your comment above, do I infer that there were just as many quakes before the big one as afterwards? How about two weeks before? or one month before?
I have been trying to find this on the net …to no avail.. perhaps I am just searching in the wrong places but any info you have would be great.


No, before the big one things were relatively quiet, though a day or two before there was a mag-7 event out in the ocean that was felt, but I don’t think it did much (any?) damage. —Jeffrey

— comment by Francesca on March 21st, 2011 at 3:33pm JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

I had seen this other similar time lapse animation before:

It starts on March 9th, so shows the build-up to the big one. There are a few “fore-shocks” (nothing compared to the aftershocks), but it is also worth noting the relative calm just before the 8.9 strikes.

— comment by Jonas on March 21st, 2011 at 5:06pm JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink
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