Just past midnight on December 26, 2004, seismic sensors detected an earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale (Doc. 8). The epicenter of this earthquake was just off the coast of Indonesia (Doc. 3). As is always a possibility with a large quake (Doc. 4), a massive tsunami, which extended about 1000 miles from its center, was formed (Doc. 1). This tsunami resulted in what according to the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator at the time, “may be the worst natural disaster in recent history” (Doc. 1).
The Earth’s crust is composed of many islands floating in a sea of magma, which encircles the earth and is constantly circulating. This circulation allows plate movement, which can often result in various natural phenomenon. Among the most common of these are earthquakes. Earthquakes typically occur near transform boundaries, or places where plates scrape past each other. However, they can occur anywhere that plates move.
Near the epicenter of the quake, two plates collided (Doc. 2) to form an incredibly unstable fault line, the Burma-India plate boundary (Doc. 5). As the Indian plate subducted, or slid under, the Burma plate (Doc. 2), rocks caught on the Burma plate and created massive amounts of pressure. As the boundary was 600 miles long (Doc. 1), large amounts of force built up on the plates, setting the stage for a massive earthquake.
On December 26, 2004, the pressure became too much for the plates to bear (Doc. 8); the plates violently snapped. This sent massive vibrations, which are collectively called an earthquake, through the Earth’s crust. These seismic waves travelled all the way from the sea to land, wreaking havoc in their paths. Though earthquakes are always dangerous, they can have a far more dangerous consequence.
Earthquakes in the ocean often result in tsunamis (Doc. 4), a Japanese word for “harbor wave” (Doc. 7). Due to the earthquake’s massive force, the bottom of the sea rose up by a noticeable amount (Doc. 2). The newly uplifted land took the place of trillions of gallons of water (Doc. 4), and unable to go anywhere else, the water spread apart from the epicenter, traveling quickly at first, but slower near shore (Doc. 4). The newly formed tsunami grew taller as it neared shore (Doc. 4) and violently hit the coast (Doc. 6).
The effects of this disaster were amplified by the many things humans did or neglected to do. Among the most fatal errors were the lack of a “ [tsunami] warning system” in the Indian Ocean (Doc. 1). According to a US Geological Survey official, “A warning center... could have saved thousands of people” (Doc 6). Even more tragically, the Pacific Warning System detected the earthquake, but did not warn the countries affected because it was not clear who to send the alert to (Doc. 6)
Unfortunately, people did not know to evacuate anyway, because tsunamis are so seldom in the Bay of Bengal (Doc. 7). In fact, the last big tsunami occurred in 1945 (Doc. 9). The rarity of these events...