For starters, Japan is located along the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, which is the most active earthquake belt in the world. Callan Bentley over at Mountain Beltway has a good summary of earthquake coverage. The location of the recent earthquake is given as an orange star: The first figure shows that there have been many large (greater than magnitude 7)  and shallow (meaning more destructive at Earth’s surface) earthquakes in this area of Japan since 1900. It’s believed to have caused a tsunami that brought considerable destruction to Kamakura. Along much of the Ring of Fire, plates overlap at convergent boundaries called subduction zones. "Many scientists believe that most of Japan Islands were under the sea before Miocene. Serious earthquakes from 6.0-8.0 happen even more regularly, perhaps once a decade or so, and lesser quakes are quite common. Where one plate begins to dive down below the other, an oceanic trench forms. Site. Japan is an archipelago of islands that was itself formed by complicated processes over hundreds of millions of years. The interaction of these three plates makes large earthquakes, such as the recent 8.9 magnitude one, a likely occurrence. Click to view larger. The Japanese earthquake season. The little triangles indicate a subduction zone boundary. The country experiences around 1,500 shocks a year, including one or more in magnitude 6.5 or higher. Something that is unique about subduction plate boundaries (relative to convergent and transform- or sliding- plate boundaries) is that there can be very deep earthquakes. Of course, most of these are just minor tremors, but there’s still something noticeable nearly every day. Hot-spot volcanoes form rather simply: a thermal anomaly deep in the Earth causes rocks to heat up and melt. They often ask if there’s a particular earthquake season like there is for tornadoes and hurricanes. Earthquakes are most frequent where two or more plates meet. In 1935, K. Wadati, a Japanese seismologist, showed that earthquakes occurred at greater depths towards the interior of the Asian continent. So, at mid-ocean ridges- places where tectonic plates move apart and rocks are able to move upwards quickly- rocks melt because of adiabatic decompression melting. The geology of Japan is some of the richest and most fascinating in the world. Some people traveling or moving to Japan want to prepare for earthquakes as best they can. Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and aspiring polyglot. Specifically, Japan lies on the edge of an extremely active tectonic region called the Ring of Fire. In the normal case, the solidus and the geotherm do not cross and no melting (and thus no volcanism) is produced. Japan’s population had exploded with industrialism, but safety and structural engineering had not caught up. In fact, it has roughly 1,500 earthquakes each year. At a subduction zone, a plate (usually an oceanic plate) is going deep into the Earth. My fellow geobloggers are currently doing a great job of covering the recent news of the Japan earthquake. Japan’s specific location in this “ring”, … In Japan alone, there are around 265 volcanoes classified as potentially active. Most rocks on Earth actually melt because of a sudden change in pressure. This molten rock is less dense than the surrounding solid rock, so it flows upward to the surface. In fact, it has roughly 1,500 earthquakes each year. Serious earthquakes from 6.0-8.0 happen even more regularly, perhaps once a decade or so, and lesser quakes are quite common. In 1995 more than 6000 people were killed in the Great Hanshin Earthquake. With 1,500 earthquakes a year, you can do the math and find that earthquakes are a pretty common occurrence. This is the cause of frequent earthquakes and the presence of many volcanoes and hot springs across Japan. If you are planning for a visit, you should know why the country experiences so many earthquakes and how the … The reason that the interior of the Earth is not all melted, even though it is very hot, is because there is also an enormous amount of pressure in the interior of the Earth. This happens when one plate, usually a denser sea plate, goes under another, often a less-dense continental plate. Here is a comparison of earthquakes and tectonic plate boundaries: Notice how deep earthquakes occur at subduction zones: Finally, below is a figure showing why Japan is an especially tumultuous region of plate convergence. The result is an arc shape where the plate dips down before lifting up. The quake resulted in a tsunami that killed 230,000 people from 14 countries. Since four plates are involved in the formation of Japan, it makes a complex folded structure kind of like when you close a cardboard box without any tape. This makes them random on a human time scale and mostly impossible to predict with our current technology. NOAA’s West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center, Disney–Pixar’s “Lava” explained by a geologist–volcanologist | OnCirculation, The Latest: Friday’s spectacular volcanic eruption in Japan, in one GIFKALEINAR.COM -, The Bridge: Connecting Science and Policy, Estimated tsunami travel times. Well, this relates to a fundamental concept in geology- why do rocks melt? However, add one to another and the mixture melts at a temperature lower than 0 °C. In fact, the Tohoku earthquake is the only earthquake in Japan known to have surpassed 9.0. The famous San Francisco Bay Area Earthquake of 1989 rated 6.9, the Tsar Bomba, the world’s largest nuclear bomb ever tested, rated 7.1, and the meteor impact that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago is estimated at 13.0. The frequency of earthquakes is inversely related to their magnitude. While there are a number of things that can occur when plates collide, the main process at work beneath Japan is subduction. Yet, the interior of the Earth is pretty much all solid, except for the outer core. The reason Japan has so many earthquakes is that a number of these plates converge below the country's surface. This is an area of high seismic and volcanic activity from New Zealand, up through Japan, across to Alaska, and down the west coasts of North and South America. This 40,000 km long chain consists of at least 450 volcanoes. Plate tectonics, from Greek "builder" or "mason", is a theory of geology that has been developed to explain the observed evidence for large scale motions of the Earth's lithosphere. It almost like Japan as archipelago country. The four plates meet near Tokyo on Honshu, Japan’s main island. the reason that japan gets so many earthquakes is because it is on the edge of a tectonic plate called the pacific plate. Earthquakes and Japan are almost synonymous. Due to its position on the tectonic plates and within the Ring of Fire, Japan has a lot of earthquakes. We do shake in Japan….a lot. The second figure shows that there has been quite a bit of earthshaking- both small and large- in this area of Japan since 1990. Finally, why do earthquakes occur at subduction zones such as Japan? Why Japan have so many earthquakes? Figure taken from, Artistic (not quite scientifically accurate but very pretty) depiction of an island arc & subduction zone. Japan has a rich culture of using these springs for public baths known as. The USGS (US Geological Survey) tsunami warning for the US can be found here. If you pay attention to the news, you probably know the large effect earthquakes have on Japan. I remember that! Serious earthquakes from 6.0-8.0 happen even more regularly, perhaps once a decade or so, and lesser quakes are quite common. Nice. 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