[FOUNTAIN]Nature’s fury shows itself once again

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[FOUNTAIN]Nature’s fury shows itself once again

The 19th-century Japanese artist Hokusai Katsushika might be the one painter in history who best captured the overwhelming power of a great wave. This Edo-era master directly influenced the impressionists of Europe; his best-known work, “The Great Wave,” depicts a boat being tossed by the sea. Its detail, bold composition and vivid color capture the magnificence of Mother Nature.
George Pararas-Carayannis, of the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics at the University of Hawaii, displays Katsushika’s “Great Wave” on the home page of his Web site devoted to tsunamis. Tsunami is a Japanese word meaning “a wave surging into a port.” Japan has been a frequent victim of earthquakes and tidal waves, and their word for the phenomenon came to be used internationally.
Tsunamis are notorious for suddenly surging as they reach an inlet, like a beast leaping to seize its prey. In the deeper reaches of the ocean, tsunamis are fast but not high; as they approach the shore and the sea becomes more shallow, they slow and grow higher. The tsunami that swept the countries bordering the Indian Ocean last week originated in an undersea earthquake that caused the ocean floor to rise by 11 meters. The thousand-kilometer-long waves that followed moved through the abyss at 700 kilometers per hour. Crews at sea may have little noticed the waves, but when they reached the coasts, they suddenly rose by as much as 10 meters. To those who saw this fearsome and amazing spectacle, it must have seemed as though the sea had stood up.
Indonesia is often struck by natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, because it is located where several tectonic plates meet. The 36,000 killed by the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa near the island of Java died not in the eruption itself, but in the 30-meter-tall tsunami that followed. The deadliest earthquake in the 20th century was in Tangshan in northeastern China in 1976, which killed more than 240,000 people; the death toll from last week’s disaster is well over 100,000 and certain to climb further, and in the end could be a catastrophe unprecedented in history.
Koreans should be grateful for our geological circumstances; the islands of Japan protect us from tsunamis in the Pacific Ocean. But we should never forget the greatness and power of nature.

by Oh Byung-sang

The writer is the JoongAng Ilbo’s London correspondent.
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