Smithsonian Geologist Elizabeth Cottrell Discusses the Japan Earthquake

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As director of the Global Volcanism Program, Smithsonian geologist Liz Cottrell studies the mechanisms of the earth, and she and her team of staff and volunteers are responsible for building databases and archival resources for the Earth's active volcanoes and their eruptions. Her team keeps a scientific eye on the earth's dynamic and active volcanism.

Cottrell says that the Sendai Earthquake, which erupted in Japan on March 11 with a magnitude of 8.9 was "one of the five largest earthquakes ever recorded anywhere in the world."

"The islands of Japan," she says, "are on the ring of fire all around the Pacific Ocean. All around the Pacific Ocean, we have a lot of Earthquakes and a lot of volcanoes erupting. That's because of the plate tectonics cycle."