Tsunami Damage in Northwest Sumatra

Tsunami Damage in Northwest Sumatra

The island of Sumatra suffered from both the rumblings of the submarine earthquake and the tsunamis that were generated on December 26, 2004. Within minutes of the quake, the sea surged ashore, bringing destruction to the coasts of the northern Sumatra. This pair of images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Terra satellite shows the Aceh province of northern Sumatra, Indonesia, on December 17, 2004, before the quake (bottom), and on December 29, 2004 (top), three days after the catastrophe.

Although MODIS was not specifically designed to make the very detailed observations that are usually necessary for mapping coastline changes, the sensor nevertheless observed obvious differences in the Sumatran coastline. On December 17, the green vegetation along the west coast appears to reach all the way to the sea, with only an occasional thin stretch of white that is likely sand. After the earthquake and tsunamis, the entire western coast is lined with a noticeable purplish-brown border.

The brownish border could be deposited sand, or perhaps exposed soil that was stripped bare of vegetation when the large waves rushed ashore and then raced away. Another possibility is that parts of the coastline may have sunk as the sea floor near the plate boundary rose.

On a moderate-resolution image such as this, the affected area may seem small, but each pixel in the full resolution image is 250 by 250 meters. In places the brown strip reaches inland roughly 13 pixels, equal to a distance of 3.25 kilometers, or about 2 miles. On the northern tip of the island (shown in the large image), the incursion is even larger.

For additional imagery related to the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunamis, please see the event “Earthquake Spawns Tsunamis” in the Natural Hazards section of our Website.

NASA images created by Jesse Allen, Earth Observatory, using data obtained from the MODIS Rapid Response team and the Goddard Earth Sciences DAAC.