EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI OF 13 JANUARY 2007 IN THE KURIL ISLANDS
On 13 January 2007, less than
two months after the great earthquake of 15 November 2006, another
great earthquake occurred off the east coast of the Kuril Islands.
In spite of the quake's large magnitude, only a relatively small
tsunami was generated. A tsunami warning was issued in Japan
and for a large region of the Western Pacific. A watch was issued
for Hawaii, Alaska and the Northwest Pacific. Only a small tsunami
was recorded or observed in Hokkaido, Japan, and at distant locations
in the Pacific.
Date and Time of Occurrence
- The earthquake
occurred on the 13th of January 2007 (04:23:36 UTC). This was
also the local date and time in the epicentral region. The date
and time of the event east of the International Time Zone was
Friday, 12 JAN 2007, 0623 PM (Pacific Standard Time)
Epicenter Location - Latitude: 46.288°N, 154.448°E,
near the Kuril Islands, Russia (USGS NEIC -WDCS-D)
Distances - According to the USGS the earthquake
505 km (315 miles) SSW of Severo-Kuril'sk, Kuril Islands, Russia
525 km (325 miles) ENE of Kuril'sk, Kuril Islands
1710 km (1060 miles) NE of TOKYO, Japan
7260 km (4510 miles) NE of MOSCOW, Russia
Magnitude - A Moment magnitude of 8.3 and
a Richter magnitude of 8.1 were initially assigned to this event
by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
Focal Depth - 10 km (6.2 miles).
Aftershocks - There were many aftershocks after
the main quake.
of the 13 January 2007 Earthquake (USGS graphic).
The Kuril volcanic
arc of 56 islands separates the Sea of Okhotsk from the Pacific
Ocean. It extends for 1300km (700mile) from the northern Japanese
island of Hokkaido, Japan to Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula.
Earthquake Focal Mechanism
- The focal mechanism
of this earthquake was moderately well controlled and corresponded
to normal faulting.
Seismicity of the
Northern Japan/Kuril island Region - The Kuril islands and Japan is a region of high
seismic activity and accounts for about 20 per cent of the world's
earthquakes. There was significant seismic activity in the region
since September 2006, which culminated with a great earthquake
in November 15, 2006. Several large earthquakes occurred also
in December 2006. The 13 January event was the second great earthquake
in less than two months.
There have been several earthquakes with magnitude 8.0 or greater
prior to the 17 January 2007 event. Great earthquakes occurred
in 1952 (near Kamchatka), 1963, 1994, and 2003 and in November
Setting of the Northern Japan/Kuril Island Region
The overall tectonics
of northeast Asia is complicated. Whether the Sea of Okhotsk
and the northern Japanese islands are part of the North American
plate or of a separate Okhotsk microplate that is part of Eurasia
has not been determined. On the Pacific Ocean side, earthquake
slip vectors along the Kuril and Japan trenches are consistent
with either a Pacific-North America or a Pacific-Okhotsk plate
motion. We will assume that the Pacific-North America plate motion
is better supported and that the Okhotsk microplate is part of
North America block.
The Kuril island arc is located between the Kamchatka Peninsula
and the Japanese island of Hokkaido. The Kuril Trench has been
formed by subduction of the Pacific plate under the North American
plate. It extends from the offshore central area of Kamchatka
The tectonics of the Southern Kuril Islands-Northern Hokkaido
region are very different than those along the southern portion
of the Japanese Trench. The South Kuril Islands are part of the
Kuril arc in the Okhotsk plate which has been colliding westward
against the Northeast Japan arc, along the Hidaka Collision Zone
(HCZ), where new continental crust is created by active arc-arc
- Deep seismic reflection
studies (Ito, Kazuka @Abe, 2001) show the lower crust of the
Kuril arc to be delaminated at a depth of about 23 km. As stated,
studies indicate that the upper half (above 23 km) - consisting
of the earth's upper crust and the upper portion of lower crust
of the Kuril arc - is thrusting over the Northeast Japan arc
along the Hidaka Main Thrust (HMT) (Ito, Kazuka @Abe, 2001).
However, the lower half (below 23 km) - consisting of the lower
portion of lower crust and upper mantle material - is descending
downward. Such delamination and horizontal displacement - as
it will be discussed further - may account for the small tsunamis
associated with both the 13 January 2007 and the 15 November
The postulated Amurian
Microplate (After Wei D. and Seno T. 1998)
As a result of such kinematic processes, the wedge of the Northeast
Japan arc is intruded into the delaminated Kuril arc, as the
Pacific plate is subducting northward beneath both of the above
mentioned structures, thus continuing the arc-arc collision (and
continental crust production). The complex, seismo-tectonic kinematic
process of this region has been named "Delamination-wedge-subduction
system" - which may apply also to other areas where active
arc-arc collision and concurrent subduction take place.
Accordingly, Hokkaido - Japan's northernmost island - extends
northeast into Kuril Islands and is composed of multiple compressed
island arcs. The northern half of Honshu (north of Tokyo), which
is Japan's main island, represents a typical mature island arc,
while the southern half of the island represents also a typical
mature island arc, as the Philippine Sea plate subducts below
the Eurasian plate.
The Postulated Amurian
Microplate - On the
western side, the Sea of Japan/East Sea is a complex basin between
Japan and the Korea/Okhotsk Sea Basin. It represents another
subplate with apparent rotational movement as it interacts against
the Okhotsk microplate, along the inland sea boundary of the
Hidaka Collision Zone (HCZ). Based on recent studies of seismicity
and earthquake focal mechanisms (Wei and Seno, 1998) a postulated
Amurian microplate (AM) has been discriminated from the Eurasian
plate (EU), which includes part of North China, Mongolia and
Siberia and includes the Sea of Japan/East Sea. The postulated
microplate is presumably in contact with the Eurasian plate (EU),
the Okhotsk microplate (OK) and the Phillipine Sea plate (PH).
This Amurian microplate appears to rotate in a counterclockwise
direction, while the Okhotsk microplate appears to rotate in
a clockwise direction. Movement and rotation along the eastern
boundary of this postulated Amurian microplate along the Sea
of Japan/East Sea appears to have been the region where two large
tsunamigenic earthquakes occurred recently (in 1983 and in 1993).
Sakhalin Island, north
of Hokkaido, which separates the Sea of Japan from the Sea of
Okhotsk, is probably the result of transpressional tectonics
along the North America-Eurasia (Okhotsk microplate) boundary.
of Recent Earthquakes in the Region
TSUNAMI OF 13 JANUARY 2007
A relatively small
tsunami was generated by the great earthquake of 13 January 2007,
which was recorded in the immediate region and at distant locations
in the Pacific.
and Records of Tsunami Wave Activity
Hanasaki - At Hanasaki (Hokkaido, Japan),
at 0605Z the tide gauge registered a 10cm Japan 0.1m/0.3ft amplitude
wave with period of about 28 minutes.
Nemuro - A small tsunami wave of about
40cm (16 inches) was recorded at 9:29 p.m. at the port of Nemuro
on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido.
Kushiro - 0.05 m/0.15ft.
Ofunato - 0.06m/0.2 ft
Kamaishi - 0.07cm/0.2ft
Miyako - 0.08cm/ 0.26ft
US and the Pacific
(showing time of first wave arrival)
The Pacific Tsunami
Warning Center reported the following heights and times of first
WAKE 0837Z 0.09M 10MIN
MIDWAY 0911Z 0.18M 10MIN
HILO HAWAII 1148Z 0.12M 14MIN
KAHULUI MAUI 1126Z 0.14M 16MIN
NAWILIWILI KAUAI 1208Z 0.09M 10MIN
ADAK AK 0831Z 0.04M 18MIN
DART NW PAC 0735Z 0.03M 08MIN
SHEMYA AK 0712Z 0.32M 06MIN
Watches, Warnings and Advisories
The Japanese Meteorological
Organization issued a tsunami warning for Japan. The Pacific
Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning for a broad area
in the Western Pacific Ocean. The Alaska Tsunami Warning System
issued a Tsunami Warning for the Alaska coastal areas from Sand
Point, Alaska to Attu, Alaska. A Tsunami Watch was issued for
British Columbia and Alaska coastal areas from the north tip
of Vancouver I., British Columbia to Sand Point, Alaska. Advisories
were issued only for California, Oregon, Washington, and the
Based on earthquake
aftershock distribution of the first 24 hours, a tentative estimate
of the tsunami generating area can be obtained. The earthquake
involved a block of about 80x 150 nautical miles.
and Tsunamis in the Kuril Islands Region
The last great earthquake
in the near the Kuril Islands region had occurred on Wednesday,
November 15, 2006 at 11:14:16 (UTC) (See http://drgeorgepc.com/Tsunami2006Kurils.html).
That earthquake had an epicenter at 46.616°N, 153.224°E
at about 100 nautical miles to the southwest of the 13 January
2007 earthquake. It was a deeper earthquake with hypocenter focal
depth of about 40km/25miles and it was followed by a number of
large aftershocks, some of which exceeded magnitude 6+. Tsunami
watches and warnings were issued for a large section of the Pacific
basin, however only a small tsunami of about 30cm/1.0ft. was
recorded at Hanasaki, and 25cm/0.8ft at Hushiro, Japan At tide
stations at Shemya and at Amchitka, Alaska the tsunami waves
of amplitude 20cm/0.65ft and 8cm/0.25ft were recorded, respectively.
However, the region
remained seismically active. Following the 15 November 2006 great
earthquake several smaller events occurred in the region during
November and December 2006 and in January 2007.
Epicenter of the 1994
Earthquake - Tsunami Generation Area
On Thursday, 7 December
2006 (19:10:21, UTC) a shallow (16 km focal depth) earthquake
(magnitude 6.3) occurred at 46.16N 154.38E. This could have been
a large aftershock of the 15 November 2006 earthquake or an independent
On Tuesday. 26 December 2006, (15:19:46.000 UTC) a shallow focus
(depth 6 miles (10 km)) earthquake (Magnitude: 5.60 Mb) occurred
at 48.4630 N., 154.6940 and it appears to be a precursor event
of the 12 January 2007 great earthquake and approximately 120
nautical miles to the north.
On Saturday, December
30, 2006 (at 12/30/2006 11:16:45.100 UTC) a much deeper earthquake
of unknown magnitude and depth of about 124 miles (200 km)) occurred
at 46.772 N., 152.914
Graphic of Epicenters and Aftershocks of the November 15, 2006
and the January 13, 2007 Earthquakes
and Tsunamis in the Northern Japan/Kuril Island Region (since
Review of the historic
record indicates that the following tsunamis were generated in
recent years near Kamtchatka, the Kuril Islands, Northern Japan
and the Sea of Japan:
October 13, 1963
- Kuril Islands (MS=8.1,
I=2.5) - Urup tsunami.
June 16, 1964 - Sea of Japan - (MS=7.5) - Niigata
tsunami (26 dead).
August 11, 1969 - Kuril Islands (MS=7.8, I=2.0)
- Shikotan tsunamis.
November 22, 1969
- Kamchatka (MS=7.7,
I =3.0) - Ozernoy tsunami.
May 25, 1983 - Northern part of Sea of Japan
(MS= 7.7) - (104 dead).
January 15, 1993
- Japan / Hokkaido
(MS=7.8) - Kushiro tsunami, one dead.
July 12, 1993 - Japan Sea (MS=7.7, I=3.0) -
Okushiri tsunami (Maximum Wave Height 30.2m) (more than 200 dead).
October 4, 1994 - South Kuril Islands/Northern
Japan Hokkaido (MS=8.1, I=2.6) - Shikotan tsunami (8 dead in
of Pacific and North American (Okhotsk subplate) Tectonic Plate
Interactions along the Central and Southern Kuril Trench. Possible
Mechanisms Controlling Tsunami Generation.
It would have been
expected that the great earthquake of 13 January 2007 (Mw 8.2)
- as well as the great earthquake (Mw 8.3) of November 15, 2006
would have generated much greater, Pacific-wide tsunamis. Neither
one did. The reason is that the geometry of subduction and tectonic
interactions along volcanic arcs are different than those of
other tectonic collision boundaries - thus unique in tsunami
generation for this particular region. The Pacific plate subduction
along the southern Kuril Trench results in mega continental tension
gashes that are parallel to the direction of convergence (Gelabert
et al. 2001). Also the tension along convergent boundaries results
in steep dipping faults that may be normal, strike-slip or thrust
To understand the
dynamics of tsunami generation by large earthquakes in this region,
we must look at the geometry of subduction processes and the
mechanics of arc collision that create volcanic arcs such as
the Kuril Islands and extensional back-arc basins - such as the
Sea of Okhotsk.
Subduction and Arc-Arc
Collision - Subduction
along the Japan and Kuril Trenches has been primarily responsible
for many large historical earthquakes and catastrophic tsunamis
on the Pacific side of Northern Japan and the South and Central
Kuril island region (see section above about the tectonic setting).
Most of the tsunamis had destructive near-field effects but limited
far-field impact. The only recent exception may be the 1952 Kamtchatka
earthquake - which occurred much further north - and generated
a tsunami with significant Pacific-wide, impact. The geometry
of subduction appears to be different along the Kamtchatka peninsula
than in the Central and South Kuril Island region.
High Rate of Subduction in the Hokkaido/Kuril Island Region -
The Pacific plate converges into northeastern Asia (the Okhotsk
subplate which is believed to be part of the North American plate,
separated from the Eurasian plate (along the postulated Amurian
microplate?) by the Hidaka Collision Zone (HCZ)). The rate of
tectonic convergence along the Kamchatka, Kuril and Japan trenches
is estimated at about 8-9 m per century - which is a very high.
Hokkaido, which extends northeast into the Kuril Islands, is
composed of multiple compressed island arcs.
In the past two centuries, this fast rate of subduction has triggered
several large earthquakes with magnitudes of up to 8 or more
along the southern Kuril trench, near the island of Hokkaido.
However, these historical earthquakes have ruptured segments
of the trench and of the fore arc region that have been only
in the range of 100-200 km long. Thus, these must be considered
as characteristic of most plate-boundary recent earthquakes for
this volcanic arc region - although, there is geologic evidence
that great earthquakes with multi-segment ruptures have occurred
also in the past which have resulted in extremely large tsunamis.
However, earthquakes with multi-segment ruptures are infrequent
and none is known to have occurred within recorded history.
and Effects of Rotation -
Apparently, the grinding motion of the North Pacific Plate against
this Okhotsk microplate, results in large earthquakes - such
as those of 1963 and 1994 - but apparently with less vertical
subduction and more rotational movement. For example, the 1994
quake resulted in only about 50 cm of land subsidence but in
extensive lateral movement at Shikotan Island. A greater amount
of subsidence would have been expected, given the earthquake's
Also, the October 4, 1994 earthquake generated a destructive
local tsunami with runup height of up to 10 meters in the South
Kuril Islands but the far field effects were not significant.
Maximum runup along the coast of Hokkaido, Japan, was 1.8 meters
(at Nemuro). Maximum runup in the Hawaiian islands was 0.8 meters
(at Kahului, Maui).
and Rupture Length Effects -
Tsunamis are generated by relatively shallow crust disturbances
associated with large earthquakes and long ruptures. The extent
of crustal displacements and the length of earthquake ruptures
- as inferred from the distribution of aftershocks - are major
factors in the tsunami generation mechanism and on whether there
will be significant far field tsunami impact.
The crustal area in the Southern Kuril Islands and Northern Hokkaido,
along the northern part of the Japan and Kuril Trenches, appears
to be highly fractured. As described previously, the South Kuril
Islands are part of the Kuril arc in the Okhotsk microplate which
has been also colliding westward against the Northeast Japan
arc, along the Hidaka Collision Zone (HCZ), where new continental
crust is created by active arc-arc collision.
Crustal displacements appear to be occurring along these boundaries
of highly fractured subplates that may not be longer than 200-300
km and probably much less. It appears that these fractured smaller
plates - truncated by oblique asperities - limit the length of
ruptures and extent of crustal displacements, and therefore,
the amount of energy imparted for tsunami generation.
- The majority of
earthquakes in the central and southern Kuril islands and the
Hokkaido region - even those of large magnitude - usually involve
single segment ruptures along the Kuril trench - segments truncated
by oblique asperities. Such earthquakes with relatively short
single segment ruptures do not generate very large Pacific-wide
tsunamis. Most of the destructive effects of the tsunamis are
local in the Kuril Islands and northern Hokkaido region.
earthquakes in the region have been associated with single segment
ruptures. The Kuril Island Earthquakes of 13 October 1963 (Ms
= 8.1; Mw = 8.5) the 19 October 1963 (Ms = 7.2; Mw = 7.8) and
the October 4, 1994, were such single segment events. They did
generate destructive local tsunamis but the far field effects
were not significant. However, what may be significant is that
these two major earthquakes occurred a week apart in the same
region. Also, that the second earthquake on 19 October 1963 occurred
somewhat east of the 13 October 1963 event.
The January 13, 2007 earthquake - like those of November 15,
2006, of 1994 and of 1963 - occurred on the Pacific side boundary
of the smaller tectonic subplate which includes the Sea of Okhotsk
and possibly a portion of the northern part of the Sea of Japan
/ East Sea (Pararas-Carayannis, 1995). It appears that the pair
of earthquakes of November 15, 2006 and January 13, 2007, which
occurred in less than two months in the same general region,
was similar to the pair of events that occurred in 1963. The
January 13, 2007 event occurred somewhat east of the previous
event. One possible explanation for the occurrence of great earthquakes
in the same region within the short time frame may be crustal
delamination processes and the mechanics of volcanic arc collision
that create extensional back-arc basins (such as the Sea of Okhotsk).
Transpressional Effects and Back Arc Migration - If crustal delamination occurs
below 23 km as postulated (Ito, Kazuka @Abe, 2001) such process
would also account for the smaller tsunami as there is less vertical
movement of crustal material below 23 km and more lateral movement
above. As it was pointed out, the 1994 earthquake resulted in
only about 50 cm of land subsidence but extensive lateral movement
at Shikotan Island.
The earthquake of
November 15, 2006 had a focal depth of 28.5 km. Given the short
rupture of the earthquake and the focal depth below the delamination
boundary of 23 km this would explain why no major tsunami was
generated that had significant far field effects. Most of the
earthquake's energy went into lateral transpressional movement
along this boundary of subduction - filling the void caused by
Kuril arc migration by pushing the subducting (and denser) plate
horizontally towards the extensional basin (Sea of Okhotsk) -
as in 1994. Such migration would also account for the close sequence
of a pair of the great earthquakes, the first occurring on November
15, 2006 and the second occurring in January 13, 2007- slightly
to the east and shallower.
Kuril Island/Hokkaido region generate tsunamis that can have
significant far field destructive effects (Pacific-wide)?
Based on the stratigraphic distribution of deposits of historical
tsunamis found in Japan, it has been inferred that unusually
large tsunamis have occurred in this region. The significant
runup of these tsunamis leads to the conclusion that they were
generated by earthquakes which ruptured two or more segments
along the Japan Trench or along the central and southern Kuril
Trench. Such events are extremely rare but may occur every 500
years or more and could have significant regional and far field
AND FURTHER READING
The following are
selected references for further reading on the kinematics of
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which historically have produced numerous destructive tsunamis.
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