Scientists: Quake shifts islands

Nicobar and Simeulue farther out to sea
Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Posted: 0328 GMT (1128 HKT)

U.S. scientists say movement of the tectonic plates during the earthquake shifted the Nicobar Islands

LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) -- The massive earthquake that devastated parts of Asia permanently moved the tectonic plates beneath the Indian Ocean as much as 98 feet (30 meters), slightly shifting islands near Sumatra an unknown distance, U.S. scientists said on Tuesday.

A tsunami spawned by the 9.0-magnitude quake off the northern tip of Sumatra killed an estimated 60,000 on Sunday in Indonesia, Thailand, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and East Africa.

Satellite images showed that the movement of undersea plates off the northern tip of Sumatra moved the Nicobar Islands and Simeulue Island out to sea by an unknown distance, U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Ken Hudnut said.

Although the data showed that plates more than 12 miles (20 km) beneath the ocean's surface moved dramatically, scientists will have to use handheld satellite positioning systems at the sites to learn precisely how much the land masses on the surface shifted, Hudnut said.


The USGS team in Pasadena, California, also was studying more detailed satellite images on Tuesday to determine if the scraping of one plate over another plowed up enough debris on the ocean floor to block the port of Banda Aceh in Sumatra where international aid was headed.

Large earthquakes in the last decade in Kobe, Japan, and Golcuk, Turkey, deformed the coastlines and rendered their ports inoperable after the crises, Hudnut said.

U.S. scientists say movement of the tectonic plates during the earthquake shifted the Nicobar Islands.

(click image to enlarge)

The scientists have asked for cooperation from operators of commercial satellites that can provide high-resolution images to show the extent of damage to coastlines, he said.