Washington: The magnitude-9 earthquake that struck Japan this year not only shook the Earth, but also rattled the highest layer of the atmosphere, scientists have found.

These findings, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Space Physics, could lead to a new type of early warning system for devastating tsunamis and earthquakes, the researchers said.

Past research has revealed that the surface motions and tsunamis that earthquakes generate can also trigger waves in the atmosphere that can reach all the way to the ionosphere, one of the highest layers of the atmosphere.

Now, scientists found that the devastating Japan quake, which that struck off the country's Tohoku coast on March 11, generated the largest such disturbances seen yet, creating ripples in electrically charged particles reaching nearly 220 miles (350 km) above the Earth, agency reported.

The researchers measured these disruptions, called seismotravelling ionospheric disturbances, using about 1,000 global positioning system (GPS) receivers in Japan and Taiwan.

Disruptions of the electrically charged particles in the ionosphere would lead to anomalies in radio signals between the ground receivers and the GPS satellites, data that scientists can measure.

The scientists detected a disc-shaped rise in electron density in the ionosphere about seven minutes after the quake.

Concentric waves of fluctuating electron density then flowed out in the ionosphere from this disk at speeds of about 450 to 500 mph (720 to 800 kph).

All in all, this disruption was about three times greater than the next largest one ever seen, which came after the 2004 magnitude 9.3 Sumatra earthquake, the researchers said.