2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami


December 26, 2004, began as just an average day in the Indian Ocean and surrounding countries. People awoke to begin their day, going about their lives as they always had, with many venturing off to work at one of the many local fishing companies. — One of the biggest economic staples to the area. But by the time the day was over, nearly 300,000 people from 14 countries will have lost their lives, and over 1.7 million will be without a place to call home. The trouble began around 8 a.m., deep in the Indian Ocean. Originating 160 miles off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, at a depth of nearly 19 miles, 1,000 years worth of pressure, built up over time by the India tectonic plate moving north east at an average of 2.4 inches per year, finally gave way, sending the India plate subducting below the Burma plate along the convergent boundary. With this release of pressure came over 1.1*10^17 Joules of energy — the equivalent of 26 megatons of TNT –Strong enough to move thousand-ton boulders on the ocean floor several miles. The ‘quake itself measured a 9.3 on the Richter scale, making it the third strongest earthquake ever recorded and triggering other earthquakes as far away as Alaska. The faulting associated with the earthquake lasted the longest in recorded history disrupting the ocean floor for a full ten minutes, and subsequently causing 1,000 miles of fault to slip up to 50 feet when the subduction took place. This faulting lead to massive displacement of the Indian Ocean, as it ruptured at a speed of 1.7 miles per second. As a result of the instantaneous uplifting of the seas, due to the combined faulting, tsunami waves were quickly generated, shooting out at 300 to 600 miles per hour in every direction. The waves set their sights on the closest landmass first, being Indonesia. Upon arrival, the tsunami brought with it waves of up to 100 feet in height, which ultimately obliterated everything in their path. Due to the massive waves, Indonesia would turn out to be the hardest hit country from the event, with over 50 percent of the earthquakes casualties coming in Indonesia alone, topping 135,000 people killed. To make matters worse, although there was just over 30 minutes from the time of the earthquake to the tsunami’s first arrival, there was no warning system in place at the time, and virtually no one knew that it was coming — perhaps with the exception of animals, which locals reported seeing running to higher ground just minutes before the first waves hit. This surprise factor continued to strike hours later, as the waves progressed out across the ocean. In places as far away as South Africa, nearly 5,000 miles away, there was enough residual force from the earthquake-triggered tsunami to see the waves destroy property and cause deaths in many areas. However, while loss of life was certainly the biggest standout to come from the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the effects were far broader than that. Local ecosystems were also impacted in huge ways, as mangroves, coral reefs, vegetation and forrests were mostly rendered uninhabitable for some locations in what could wind up to be multiple decades. Additionally, many areas being used for agriculture were completely ruined when salt from the ocean made the soil sterile and virtually unusable, completely changing the way people operated in the area. For places such as Indonesia, the people who survived the catastrophe were faced with the task of adapting to their new world. With the fishing industry being at the heart of the local society, the loss of over 50,000 boats to the tsunami took a major toll — devastating most of the regions’ economy. The loss was exponentially made worse by the changing of the topography of the ports, causing some areas that were up to 4,000 feet deep to become a mere 100 feet deep, making ships unable to arrive. But despite this making it difficult for relief efforts to reach the area, nations all over the globe pulled together to raise more than 14 billion dollars for the region, and ultimately guided the region back onto its feet. Thanks to those efforts, many areas are back to a sense of normalcy as we approach 13 years after the tragedy. Furthermore, following the tsunami, the Indian Ocean tsunami warning system was formed in early 2005, immediately after the tragedy of December, 26, 2004, to provide an early warning for tsunamis for inhabitants around the Indian Ocean’s coast, with the hopes of avoiding another devastating event in the future. But despite the added warning system, according to some top scientists, these countries still lie in locations that make them targets for repeats. If an event such as this one that began in the geosphere, impacted the hydrosphere and ultimately disrupted the biosphere could happen once, many believe it could very easily happen again . . . .

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