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Unusual earthquake gave Japan tsunami extra punch, Stanford scientists say

The earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11 were generated on a fault that didn't rupture in the usual fashion, according to a study by researchers at Stanford University and the University of Tokyo. The rupture initially shot westward, then slowed markedly in that direction while the fault began rupturing rapidly eastward. The "flip-flop" fault motion first shook Honshu violently, then deformed seafloor sediments on the fault plane with such force that they triggered the huge tsunami. What researchers don't know is what the odds are that comparable faults could behave in a similar fashion.

May 25, 2011