By any measure yesterday's earthquake in Japan was a horrific human catastrophe. It'll take weeks, maybe months, to tally up the loss of human life. The reconstruction of Japan will take decades. I have no doubt that this earthquake and its aftermath will be viewed as seminal event in Japanese history. From this point forward the Japanese as a people, a society and a nation will never be the same. My heart goes out to them.
From the perspective of a geoscientist, however, this earthquake is an absolutely captivating event. I'm following the emerging technical reports with almost morbid fascination. Reports now are that the earthquake intensity may be upgraded from magnitude 8.9 to magnitude 9.1, based on post-event analysis. There was an almost 60 foot displacement along the crustal plate boundaries at the epicenter. The quake shifted Honshu, the main island of Japan, by over 8 feet. The earth was knocked off it's axis by about 10 inches!
And today, over 24 hours after the event, the area is still shaking. Japan experienced a 5.8 magnitude aftershock in the same area just this morning.
If this event, like Katrina, teaches us anything it is that the earth will have her way with us and man can only do so much to anticipate and prepare. We are all just along for the ride on this big blue marble.