While people are coping with the aftermath of the disaster caused by the March 11 earthquake in Japan, the scientific community is trying to answer the difficult questions of how an earthquake and tsunami of those magnitudes occurred and how they will affect people in the future.

To address these concerns, Ken Ito, director of the University’s Center for Japanese Studies, organized a presentation yesterday afternoon at the Michigan League to inform members of the campus community on various aspects of the tragedy.

The presentation consisted of five panelists from different academic disciplines who attempted to explain the struggles involved in the unfolding events.

Lester Monts, the University’s senior vice provost for academic affairs, said the earthquake juxtaposes human species and their ability to cope with nature.

“There is much to learn,” Monts said to a crowd of about 150 people.

Mahshid Abir, a research fellow and clinical lecturer in emergency medicine at the University Medical School, discussed the various health aspects and some of the consequences of the natural disasters. She said many health facilities in Japan face challenges because of the lack of food, water and electricity. And since a quarter of the Japanese population consists of the elderly, obtaining health care has becomes increasing difficulty, Abir said.

Additionally, Abir discussed the economic implications and the psychological impact the events could have on people.

The death toll as a result of the natural disasters is more than 8,900, and officials are projecting this number will rise to more than 18,000, the Associated Press reported yesterday.

Philip Brown, a history professor at The Ohio State University, said Japan is historically resilient and routinely faces natural hazards. Disasters like the Niigata earthquake in 1964 and the Kobe earthquake in 1995 prompted Japan to make safety improvements, but capital losses continue to increase as a result of the events the ’64 and ’95 earthquakes.

Rieko Kage, a Toyota Visiting Professor of Japanese Studies at the University and an associate professor of political science at the University of Tokyo, drew comparisons between the Kobe earthquake and this month’s Tohoku earthquake. She determined three factors that are necessary for recovery: economic resources, state assistance and social networks.

In addition, William Martin, a professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences at the University, and Jeroen Ritsema, a Henry Pollack Endowed Professor of Geological Sciences at the University, discussed the scientific aspects of the earthquake.

Martin detailed the consequences of the explosion at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant right after the tsunami hit. Japan has 55 reactors in total, and six of these were in the vicinity of the quake, he said, adding that the radiation levels have been small.

“(The) most likely outcome is that the reactors will continue to be cooled and the spent fuel pools will be stabilized soon,” Martin said.

With a magnitude of 9.0, Japan’s earthquake is the fifth-largest recorded earthquake in the past hundred years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Because of various shifts in tectonic plates around the world, the United States could also eventually experience a similar situation, according to Ritsema.

“Seismic risk is high everywhere,” Ritsema said.

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