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CAT-i Handout: Mw 7.1 Fukushima Earthquake, Japan Feb 13

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The Fukushima Mw 7.1 earthquake occurred at 23:07 local time (14:07 UTC), on Saturday, February 13th. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that the epicenter is 96.6 km southeast of Sendai, Japan, at a depth of 49.9 km. The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) reported that this event was Mj 7.3, at a depth of 55 km. Multiple aftershocks occurred in less than an hour, with the largest being Mw 5.3 on February 15. The strongest reported severity was Shindo 6+, using a JMA scale of zero to seven, in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. The largest modified Mercalli density (MMI) recorded was VIII.

The 2011 Mw 9.1 Tohoku earthquake caused significant tsunami damage while the 2021 event did not trigger a tsunami warning or report damage. Most of the historic tsunamis causing deaths were caused by marine earthquakes at depths of less than 40 km. The 2011 Tohoku earthquake was at a depth of 32 km and the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of 26 December 2004 was at a depth of 30 km. This last earthquake was at a depth of 55 km as reported by the JMA.

A JMA seismic intensity was observed for the 2021 Mw 7.1 Fukushima earthquake. Source: JMA.

Influences

A Fire and Disaster Management Agency (FDMA) initial report on February 19 claimed that the earthquake had injured at least 185 people in nine provinces with 12 people seriously injured. Reports indicate that at least 100 people have been infected in Fukushima Prefecture, 63 in Miyagi Prefecture, and 30 in Sendai City.

Reports indicate that at least 2,649 residential buildings have been damaged in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, with most of the damage occurring in Shinxi and Kagamishi towns. At least 20 buildings were completely destroyed, while most other residential buildings sustained partial or minor damage, according to a preliminary report by the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority. At least 950,000 households have lost electricity temporarily nationwide. Tokyo Electric Power Corporation (TEPCO) stated that no anomalies or changes in radiation levels were detected at the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini Nuclear Power Plants. Landslides have damaged the Soma coastal highway, Fukushima Prefecture.

Industrial impacts include the suspension of oil refining operations due to blackouts in Chiba and Sindia. Mitsui Chemicals, Idemitsu Kosan and Ineos Holdings have all reported temporary suspensions of some of their refineries. Mitsui Chemical Company said its Ichihara plant in Chiba will likely be out of business for 10 days.

The JR East Railway and Tohoku Shinkansen Express have reported a temporary suspension of services. JR East Rail has reported a portion of high-speed train services suspended due to damage to electrical lines while the Tohoku Shinkansen Express Line will need ten days to resume full service, according to NHK.

Murata Manufacturing has temporarily suspended operations at its Fukushima and Miyagi facilities and Renesas Electronics has halted operations at its Ibaraki plant to inspect the building’s clean rooms. Toyota Motor Corporation announced the suspension of vehicle production at nine plants from one to four days starting February 17. Nissan Motors, which has a manufacturing facility in Fukushima, reported that its plants were not affected.

A physical discussion

The Fukushima MW 7.1 earthquake occurred as a result of the thrust fault near the subduction zone between the Pacific plates and North America. The source reflection results roughly describe the earthquake as a slippage over an inverse fault (push) region as shown below. Seismicity in this region is very high with 33 earthquakes of Mw 7 or greater occurring within 250 km of this event in the last century.

Source reflection results for the Fukushima 7.1 Mw earthquake. The momentum tensor solution (left) and the limited slip solution (right). Source: USGS.

Historical perspective

The five largest historical industrial insurance losses reported by the General Insurance Association of Japan (GIAJ) are listed below (in million USD), using an exchange rate of 1 USD to 100 JPY. The 2011 Tohoku earthquake was a marine event while the remaining earthquakes all have earthquake centers just below Japan.

GIAJ’s five largest industry loss events. Source – https://www.sonpo.or.jp/en/statistics.

Over the past 45 years, there have been five other earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 MW or greater in this region as shown below.

Earthquakes of MW 7.0 or higher in the same area over the past 45 years. Source: Japan National Astronomical Observatory, Chronological Scientific Tables, Maruzen (2017) – https://www.j-risq.bosai.go.jp/report/en.

Sources: USGS, NHK, BBC, The Straits Times, Bloomberg, USNEWS, Fire and Disaster Management Agency (FDMA), National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Resilience (NIED) and Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA).

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