Japan's record-breaking earthquake in named

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: And we've got this note now on earthquake terminology. The U.S. Geological Survey has given an official name to last week's quake. Now, geologists in Japan have already come up with a name; there it's referred to as the Tohoku-Chiho Taiheiyo-Oki earthquake. That means the Tohoku area, Pacific ocean, offshore earthquake. In Japan, often the longer the name, the more polite it is. Here in the United State though, geologists have their own convention. Brian Atwater is with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Brian Atwater: Usually an earthquake name has a year and a place. And at least in the U.S. we try to do it with a single place name, be it San Francisco or Alaska.

Mullins: The main area affected by last week's quake was the northern Japanese island of Honshu. That area is called Tohoku.

Atwater: So, the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake captures it.

Mullins: And that's how it's gonna be remembered in the history books in English, anyway. Geologist, Brian Atwater, by the way is currently taking your questions about earthquakes and tsunamis in our online science forum. You can find out what he has to say about the tsunami risk along America's eastern seaboard. Join the conversation at theworld.org/science.