Having grown up in Tokyo, the events of the March 11th earthquake have had me glued to the Internet trying to learn as much as possible about what is going on in Japan. In Japan, earthquakes were a part of life, and while they were scary at times, I never personally witnessed anything even remotely close to the destruction and devastation that we have all seen this past week.
This graphic, from the Washington Post (shared to me by Mr. Baxter), really shows how much larger this quake was than anything else the Japanese have ever experienced. BTW, the Richter Scale is a bit confusing... this is the best, easiest to understand definition I have found so far (a 9.0 is 900 times more powerful than a 7.0, assuming I read this correctly).
While the earthquake was the catalyst of all this catastrophe, the raw, unforgiving power of the tsunami will forever leave an indelible mark on my psyche.
The NOAA Center for Tsunami Research put this visual of the wave progression on their YouTube site. It shows how one event can literally send ripples to the ends of the earth.
The recent events in Japan have brought the pros and cons (including the most dramatic of cons) of Nuclear Power back into the public spotlight. The Internet is full of nuclear visuals and infographics that might help you (and your students) understand more about this significant producer of energy.
US Nuclear Power Locations - This visual is pretty amazing. It shows all 104 Nuclear powered reactors in the USA and how close they are to seismic areas... for good measure the map also shows the locations of historical earthquakes. By and large, the reactors are not located in earthquake country... except for California. Also, why so many earthquakes along the Mississippi River around Tennessee? BTW, if you want to see ALL of the nuclear power locations, check this google map out or this (both from FT.com).
Deaths By Energy Source - This one was on the GOOD website and is pretty informative as well. This interactive visual allows you to compare the number of deaths, measured per terawatt-hour (TWh), that can be attributed to each of the main sources of energy worldwide—coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, and peat or biomass—against the proportion that each contribute to global energy production. Which is the most dangerous source of Power? Make sure to read the comments on this one, many of them make you think!
What's Inside a Nuclear Reactor? - And what are the safety precautions? This NYTimes interactive will help sort it out.
There is a lot of learning that can take place around this event. Math (calculating magnitude, speeds, distances, etc.), Science (geology, nature, platetechtonics, nuclear power, etc.), Language Arts (reflection on feelings & emotions around events), Social Studies (current events, interdependancy, etc.). But perhaps the most important discussion to have with students is about the fragility of everything and how we can solve problems by working together and getting along. It's always amazing to me how the most devestating events can bring out the humanity in all of us.