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Standing at 12,400 feet, and listed as a ‘’sacred place’’ by UNESCO’s World Heritage Foundation, Mount Fuji is one of Japan’s greatest national symbols. Scientists both in and out of Japan, however, now fear that the active volcano could be reaching ‘critical status’ – which could prove disastrous for the small island nation. Studies by Japanese scientists, as well as research coming out of the Institute of Earth Sciences and the Institute of Global Physics in France, indicates that Fuji could soon produce an eruption that could rival the last one in 1707. The explosion over 400 years ago blanketed vast areas of Japan in ash and resulted in grave destruction across the country.

The newly-published study reveals that the shock waves from the March 2011 Tohoku-oki offshore earthquake, which registered at 9.0 and precipitated the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, has dangerously increased the pressure beneath Mount Fuji.

The volcano lies 60 miles southwest of Tokyo, and given the damage brought about by the 1707 eruption – when the country was far less populated – scientists, politicians and business leaders are growing uneasy at the prospect of a new explosion that could bring catastrophic damage, crippling much of the nation’s economy. 

Although science is unable to predict when this might happen, the novel approach adopted by researchers should be of great interest to Geologists, Earth Scientists and Geographers looking to learn a little more about the science behind volcanology and seismology. Scientists carried out a giant scan of the bowels of the Earth, based on the huge mass of data recorded after the mega-quake by Japan’s Hi-net system, the densest network in the world, with 800 seismic sensors. They focused on signals commonly known as seismic noise, the result of constant interaction between ocean swell and “solid” earth. Although in the past such data has been dismissed as background interference, it now forms a central feature of this new study.

Recording these fluctuations allowed the researchers to map the geological disturbances in the bedrock of Japan caused by the seismic waves following the violent quake in 2011. As a lead researcher on at the Institute of Earth Sciences explained, “Seismic waves travel a very long way, going round the world several times . . . Their movement makes the Earth’s crust vibrate, and rather like a shock wave this produces breaks or cracks in the rock”.

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