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Damage to Japanese City Seen by Satellite
Credit: NASA

One of the cities hardest hit by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that devastated Japan last week was Rikuzentakata.

The Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA's Terra satellite observed dramatic changes at Rikuzentakata. Above, an ASTER image taken on March 14, and below, one take in March 2007.

ASTER combines infrared, red, and green wavelengths of light to make false-color images that distinguish between water and land. In these images, water is blue. Buildings and paved surfaces appear in shades of blue-gray. Agricultural fields range in color from brown to beige to pink. Vegetation is red, and brighter shades of red indicate more robust vegetation.

In the wake of the tsunami, the coastline of Rikuzentakata has been totally reshaped. A long barrier island of well-vegetated land, visible in 2007, is almost completely gone from the waterfront in 2011. North of that, flood water sits on agricultural fields.

East of Rikuzentakata, a large mass of peach-colored floating debris appears in the image from 2011. Debris, both floating and resting on land, extends eastward to Otomo, much of it lying over what had been farms. The debris mass very likely contains material swept out of Rikuzentakata.