Photo shows forecast of tsunami path in Japan after 2011 earthquake

Copyright AFP 2017-2023. All rights reserved.

As the Japanese government announced it would release treated water from a nuclear plant into the ocean, multiple social media posts shared a purported satellite image of the resulting pollution. But the posts shared the image in a false context. In reality, the image shows a forecast by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for a tsunami in March 2011 after a massive earthquake struck Japan's Tohoku region.

The photo was posted on Twitter on April 10, 2021.

It shows various colour markings on a world map.

It is captioned: “Japan nuclear waste water alert to all around the world! The shameful Japanese government will soon dump the Fukushima nuclear waste water into the Pacific Ocean. This will be the biggest man-made environmental catastrophe of this century #Japannuclearwastewater #JapanRogueState”.

A screenshot of the misleading post, taken on April 13, 2021.

The post circulated online after Japan announced it would release more than one million tonnes of treated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean.

The announcement triggered a furious reaction from countries including China and South Korea, AFP reported.

But the Japanese government argued the release is safe because the water will be processed to remove radioactive elements.

The photo was also shared alongside a similar claim on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo here and here; on Facebook here and here; and on Twitter here and here.

The claim is false: the photo is unrelated to nuclear waste pollution.

Combined reverse image and keyword searches on Google found the photo corresponds to several graphics published by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) following the massive earthquake that struck Japan’s Tohoku region on March 11, 2011.

According to the NOAA: “The graphics display forecast results, showing qualitative and quantitative information about the tsunami, including tsunami wave interaction with ocean floor bathymetric features, and neighboring coastlines.”

Below is a screenshot comparison of the photo in the misleading posts (L) and the NOAA photo (R):

A screenshot comparison of the photo in the misleading posts and the NOAA post.

The same photo was also posted with the correct caption by Getty on March 11, 2011.

The Getty Images photo credits NOAA. It is captioned: “Filled colors show maximum computed tsunami amplitude in cm during 24 hours of wave propagation. Black contours show computed tsunami arrival time. A magnitude 8.9 strong earthquake hit the northeast coast of Japan causing Tsunami alerts throughout countries bordering the Pacific Ocean.”

In response to the misleading posts, a NOAA spokesperson told AFP in an email on April 16, 2020: “Obviously, the tweet greatly mischaracterizes the Tohoku tsunami map. [The map] is a plot of the maximum wave amplitude from the Tohoku tsunami of March 2011.”

AFP previously debunked misleading posts about radiation from Fukushima that shared a miscaptioned NOAA graphic.