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Tsunami Debris Update: Coming Our Way In 2013

Feb. 28, 2012 | KUOW
CONTRIBUTED BY:
Ashley Ahearn

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A year after the tsunami hit Japan, NOAA models show the bulk of the debris in the middle of the Pacific - and potentially making its way to the U.S. West coast by the end of 2013. | credit: NOAA, Jim Churnside | rollover image for more

SEATTLE — Nearly a year has passed since a 9.0 earthquake triggered the tsunami that devastated vast sections of Japan’s eastern coast. Three and a half thousand people are still missing. Almost 16,000 have been confirmed dead.

The Japanese government estimates that the tsunami washed more than 4 million tons of debris out to sea - and it’s heading towards a coastline near you. By now most of the tsunami debris from the Japanese coast has moved out into the middle of the Pacific Ocean, en route for the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.

But it’s not in a big patch, and scientists estimate that about half of it has probably sunk by now.

Dr. Nikolai Maximenko is a senior researcher at the University of Hawaii. He’s done some modeling to predict where the tsunami debris is headed.

“The Majority of debris is going to stay in the water for a long time and only a few percent will reach coastlines of Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and Hawaii.”

The debris is expected to hit the northwest Hawaiian Islands first. The West Coast can expect to see the bulk of the remaining debris making landfall by the end of 2013.

Maximenko says ocean currents will carry much of the debris down along the West Coast and it will eventually end up back out in the Pacific Garbage Patch.

There have already been several reports of possible tsunami debris washing up on Washington’s outer coast, Vancouver Island and Alaska.

But so far only two pieces have been confirmed to be from Japan.

Both are boats, registered to towns where the tsunami hit. They were found several hundred miles from the northwest Hawaiian Islands.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it is highly unlikely that the tsunami debris is radioactive.

© 2012 KUOW
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