27 February 2010

The Desctructive power of a Tsunami

By now you've all probably heard about the terrible 8.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Chile in the pre-dawn hours this morning. While our hopes and hearts are with the survivors, Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy posed the most amazing image of the modeled impact of the resultant tsunami:

Yikes. How violent must the earthquake have been to spread that amount of energy over half the globe? Phil writes:
I’ll note that the magnitude scale doesn’t translate perfectly to energy released, but roughly speaking an 8.8 quake releases the energy equivalent of 20 billion tons of TNT, or 400 time the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated (Tsar Bomba, a 50 megaton test done by the USSR in 1961). If the measurement hold up, this will be the fifth or sixth strongest earthquake recorded since 1900. The strongest ever recorded, in 1977, was magnitude 9.5, also in Chile.
Note: apparently the image was generated by NOAA, and also, interestingly, apparently the Richter scale is no longer in use. I did not know that.

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