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Japan earthquake and tsunami: Earth's day length shortened as axis tilted by 25cm

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Devastation: The earthquake that struck off the coast of Japan on Friday was a once-in-a-millennium event, scientists say.

The earthquake that struck Japan on Friday was so powerful that it actually moved the whole planet by 25cm, experts say.

According to Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology the 9.0 magnitude ‘quake was so powerful it shifted the axis around which the Earth rotates.

And the U.S. Geological Survey reported that the main island of Japan has been shifted 2.4 metres by the force of the disaster.

The shift to the Earth’s tilt will have profound, if subtle effects on the length of the day and the passage of the seasons.

Like a figure skater drawing in her arms during a pirouette, the speed of the planet’s rotation will change as the globe’s mass has been redistributed.

But Canadian geologists say that the ‘very, very tiny’ changes won’t be seen for centuries.

‘Ten inches [25cm] sounds like quite a lot when you hold a ruler in front of you. But if you think of it in terms of the earth as a whole, it’s absolutely tiny; it’s minute,’ University of Toronto professor Andrew Miall told Postmedia News.

‘It’s going to make minute changes to the length of a day. It could make very, very tiny changes to the tilt of the earth, which affects the seasons, but these effects are so small, it’d take very precise satellite navigation to pick it up.’

Fragile planet: Friday's earthquake was so powerful it shifted the axis on which the Earth rotates.

Dr Daniel McNamara, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, told The Huffington Post that the disaster had shifted the parts of Japan’s coastline by up to 2.4m and opened up gigantic ruptures in the sea floor.

He also warned that tremors had also sunk the elevation of the country’s terrain, leaving parts permanently below sea-level.

‘You see cities still underwater; the reason is subsidence,’ he said. ‘The land actually dropped, so when the tsunami came in, it’s just staying.’

Earthquakes of this magnitude are only seen once in every 1,000 years off the coast of Japan, according to Japanese seismologists.

Satoko Oki, of the University of Tokyo’s Earthquake Research Institute, told the Japan Times the massive quake was caused by a rupture near the boundary between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates.

The Pacific plate then slipped under Japan at the Japan Trench, causing violent tremors and sending tsunami as high as ten meters slamming into the island’s east coast.

Now you see it: Images of the same stretch of Japanese coast before and after Friday's earthquake and tsunami.

Yuji Yagi, associate professor at Tsukuba University, said an earthquake of this scale could trigger further earthquakes.

‘The stress created by a massive quake increases the possibility of other large tremors; extreme caution is needed,’ he told Japan Times.

Ms Oki warned that the residents of Tokyo shouldn’t consider themselves safe and should prepare for a large quake striking the city.

Friday’s earthquake was the fifth most powerful to hit the world in the past century.

The epicenter of the earthquake was 373 km northeast of Tokyo and 130 km east of Sendai, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.


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