Friday, March 18, 2011

How do you quantify a disaster?

OTSUCHI, JAPAN - MARCH 14:  In this handout im...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeI'm sure like many of you, I have been watching the news coverage of the crisis in Japan. Perhaps because I am a math teacher, I have been more aware of the amount of numbers in the reports. From earthquake scales to radiation values, we seem to need numerical values to understand or quantify just how severe the disaster has been. How high were the tsunami waves? How far did they travel? How much stronger is a 9.0 quake than a 7.9? What is the safe distance from radiation fallout? etc. etc. The worst question of all: How many people died?
Numbers are the universal language. One lesson for your students from all of this is that people understand numerical values. Numbers may be pronounced differently in other languages but they are worth the same no matter where you are. The color blue has a variety of interpretations but the number two is the same for all. And so, although it is difficult for us to comprehend a disaster like this, numbers are a way for all of us to understand the severity of the event.

The Google Earth Blog has posted links to Google Earth material that covers the earthquake in Japan. This includes before and after overlays of the eastern coast of Japan. Here is a link to their post.
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