Map of Japan's 2011 tsunami shows how high the waves reached

Where you lived along Japan's coastline when the tsunami hit on March 11, 2011, basically determined whether you lived or died. That much is evident in these new maps created by a group of scientists untangling the reason behind the disaster's catastrophic power.

Using the largest tsunami dataset in existence, which encompasses 5300 locations along 1,243 miles of coast, the researchers distinguished a clear "regional dependence" on the characteristics of the tsunami, according to a study published today in the Geophysical Research Letters. The punishing wave crested at its highest point inland about 31 to 124 miles north of Sendai, the result of narrow bays squeezing the water into towering walls. However, the tsunami also swelled to nightmarish inundation heights of nearly 64 feet on the Sendai Plain, where it spread more than 3 miles inland.

You can see how the geography of Japan's coast influenced the wave heights in these maps, which use meters instead of feet. The below map also shows in blue how far into Japan the tsunami reached. (Hat tip to Short Sharp Science for finding this study.)