Tonight on NOVA: "Japan's Killer Quake"


Tonight on NOVA, an in-depth scientific examination of Japan's recent earthquake, the subsequent tsunami, and the continuing nuclear incident. Entitled (perhaps indelicately) Japan's Killer Quake, the program shows plenty of footage that was new to me -- including a particularly surreal clip apparently shot on a mobile phone, showing a crack in the concrete opening and closing, over and over. It's like a movie special effect -- except it's real, and thus really horrifying. The program airs tonight (Wednesday, March 30, 9pm Eastern/8pm Central) on PBS stations across the US. Check your local listings, as NOVA has moved to Wednesday nights.

I've watched the episode twice, but I'm still not sure what to say about it. I'm still in shock, weeks after the earthquake. The scale of the tragedy is so unimaginable that seeing it on film doesn't make it any easier to accept -- though having scientists explain it certainly helps to understand what happened. Throughout the program, I had a feeling that, although scientists were explaining the disaster, and reporters on the ground were showing its effects, I simply could not emotionally process what I was seeing. Near the end of the program, as the nuclear crisis was discussed, things seemed even worse.

Finally, the program forces us to examine the threat of future earthquakes -- apparently there is danger of a similar earthquake much closer to Tokyo, which would be far more deadly. For my part, I live in the Pacific Northwest of the US, where a massive earthquake has long been predicted, based on historical evidence of previous "mega-quakes" along the volatile Cascadia fault. My house is nearly a hundred years old, and is not built to survive a serious earthquake, and certainly not the magnitude 8 or 9 quake we can expect...eventually. "[Japan's earthquake] is really a template for what might occur on the northern coast of Oregon and Washington. We know we are expecting an almost identical-sized earthquake [along the Cascadia fault]," says a scientist in the NOVA episode. Another scientist points out that the US is, at best, decades away from the Japanese in earthquake preparedness -- and we can't predict when a magnitude 9.0 earthquake will occur in my neighborhood. We just know that it will.

Here's a preview of tonight's NOVA episode:

I do recommend this program, particularly if you haven't kept up with the earthquake news. It does not show gory stuff -- this is a program about science, not shock value -- but it does show plenty of tsunami footage, as well as cleanup crews who are searching for bodies. (The bodies aren't visible; they're buried under mud. It's truly horrible.) I would suggest keeping young kids away from this one until you've had a chance to preview it -- unless you're ready to have a sober discussion about disaster preparedness.

After the jump, another clip from tonight's NOVA.