Natural disasters often occur without warning and can alter lives forever. And amid the damage and the struggle to rebuild, questions arise -- questions like how did this happen and what's going to happen next?
Four Indiana University of Pennsylvania professors tried to make sense of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan during an open forum Tuesday in the Eberly auditorium.
Dr. Steven Hovan, chairman of the geoscience department, welcomed those in the packed house and related how the disaster had a personal significance for him.
His oldest daughter spent many years in Japan, he said, and last summer vacationed there, close to where the tsunami hit.
Dr. Jon Lewis, a member of the geoscience department who has participated in field work and ocean drilling near the site of the Japan quake, explained the mechanics of an earthquake from a geological perspective. He also presented images of the tsunami, showing how the walls of water moved across the landscape.
One particular image showed people in vehicles trying to flee from the disaster.
"It's a very troubling sight of seeing people trying to get out of the way," Lewis said. "So it's very hard to watch
Dr. Katie Farnsworth, also a member of the geoscience department, then explained the nature of tsunamis.
She said the three stages of a tsunami are how it is generated and what allows it to form in that location, how the actual wave travels and what happens once it reaches land.
Farnsworth also explained differences between a tsunami wave and a wind-generated wave that appears in the ocean. The biggest difference, she said, is how fast they travel.
According to Farnsworth, the maximum speed of a regular wave created by wind is 40 miles per hour. A tsunami wave, though, travels more than 400 miles per hour -- often in the 400 to 600 range.
"They are moving very, very fast across the ocean, at the same speed that a jet can fly," she said.
The final information of night was presented by Dr. V.J. Wijekumar, a professor in the physics department, who discussed how Japan's nuclear reactors work. The facility that was hit hardest is one of the largest 25 nuclear power stations in the world, having six nuclear power plants, he said.
Even though natural disasters aren't uncommon, "this is by far the most unusual thing that I have seen in a long time in the civilized world, and in recent years, we have seen some pretty devastating natural disasters," Hovan said in conclusion.