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April 19, 2014

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Japan tsunami debris drifting our way

Sprawling debris fields from last March's Japan earthquake and tsunami have mostly dissipated, but lots of debris is stil headed our way. (U.S. Navy/ Flickr 2011)
Sprawling debris fields from last March's Japan earthquake and tsunami have mostly dissipated, but lots of debris is stil headed our way. (U.S. Navy/ Flickr 2011)

Like a tragic message in a bottle, debris from the tsunami that ravaged Japan last year is slowly and steadily floating to the West Coast.

Simulations from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Hawaii predict debris should begin to arrive on the West Coast in 2013, then circle back to Hawaii for a few years after that.

Six large buoys spotted along Alaska’s panhandle in January are thought to be the leading edge of debris from the tsunami making its way westward.

Last March’s earthquake and tsunami created an estimated 25 million tons of debris and destruction. Nobody is exactly sure how much got washed away to sea, though boats, appliances, garbage, automobile parts and other junk all believed to still be out there.

Debris fields visible via satellite have dissipated in the months following the disaster. Significant amounts of debris are still believed to be floating at or near the ocean’s surface, NOAA public information officer Keeley Belva told the Register-Pajaronian:

“We have detected three different Japanese fishing vessels and two other boats. There are a lot of partners involved with the debris, including the NOAA marine debris program. We’re mostly focused on Pacific states.”

Cities in Oregon are beginning to hold tsunami debris workshops where residents can learn how to handle a variety of washed-up trash. Most of it will look and seem just like the normal array of crap that unfortunately washes up on our beaches.

At least you shouldn’t have to worry about going to the beach in your protective anti-radiation suit. Melissa McDonald, director of SOLV, a non-profit involved in the debris workshops, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that the debris is unlikely to pose any radiation risk:

“The issues with the Fukushima plants didn’t happen until after that major wall of debris came over into the ocean in the first place. And then, it’s been in the ocean for such a significant amount of time that the radioactivity would’ve dispersed.”

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© 2011-13 SFBay Media Associates LLC