October 26th, 2011
06:42 PM ET

Tsunami debris at Hawaii by 2013? Researchers seek more precision

Researchers in Hawaii who predicted that a wave of debris from Japan’s March 11 tsunami may hit Hawaiian shores by 2013 are preparing studies that may allow more precise forecasts.

The preparations come a month after a Russian ship found “unmistakable tsunami debris” including a refrigerator, a TV and a damaged 20-foot fishing vessel in the Pacific Ocean between Japan and the Midway Atoll, according to the International Pacific Research Center of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

The fishing boat had markings that indicated it came from Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture, the university said.

“The most important thing the (Russian ship did in September) did was provide solid proof of the existence of the tsunami debris,” researcher Nikolai Maximenko said Wednesday. “Soon we hope to have better information and to make exact forecasts for the landfall of debris for Midway (Atoll).”

Maximenko and fellow researcher Jan Hafner predicted in April  using computer models developed from observations of how buoys drift in the ocean that some of the debris that the tsunami carried away would reach the Hawaiian islands by 2013. Some debris would then hit the western U.S. and Canadian coasts by 2014 before bouncing back toward Hawaii for a second impact.

They also predict that some of the smaller, lighter debris such as plastic bottles could reach the Midway Atoll, more than 1,200 miles northwest of Hawaii, by this winter.

Estimates from various sources including the Japanese government indicate that between 10 million and 25 million tons of debris including houses, tires, trees and appliances were washed to sea by the tsunami, Maximenko said.

Like any maritime debris, a vast majority of it will either sink or end up in an oceanic garbage patch, a sort of circulating, floating collection hundreds of miles in diameter, in this case between Hawaii and California, Maximenko said. He predicts that only 1% to 5% of the tsunami debris will wash ashore.

But the debris is notable because such a vast amount was released at once and because it includes plenty of large objects not normally put into the sea, according to Maximenko. These two factors could have unique implications for marine life and ship safety, he said.

Maximenko said that before mid-November, he hopes to have volunteers sailing into the tsunami debris field to deploy various objects that can be tracked by satellites. The objects of three different shapes and sizes will help the International Pacific Research Center track where various types of debris are going and help it predict when debris will hit U.S. and Canadian shores.

He said more research funding is needed to monitor maritime debris and study its impact.

“One on hand, we have a critical understanding of ocean dynamics, but on the other hand we have practically no tools to monitor this kind of debris,” Maximenko said.

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Filed under: 2011 tsunami • Hawaii • Japan
soundoff (101 Responses)
  1. Hanalei Kauai Resident

    Our beautiful coast is such a treasure. I hope that once again the ocean will spare us and absorb more of this debris before it hits the coast. Humans should not create & consume so much stuff. Simpler is better all the way around.

    October 27, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hawaiian chilipepper

      Howzit Hanalei, I use to live on Kauai, Koloa side. Now stay Honolulu.The food is ono here. I hope a big fat wallet of money washes up for me of a jewelry box full of valuables. Silver linning, nice furniture maybe haha. I guess theres not much we can do but pick though it and find something to take home.

      October 28, 2011 at 6:10 am | Report abuse |
  2. bailoutsos

    Radioactive debris?

    October 27, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dwight

      No more than what your own household materials are. The radioactive material from the reactors was either very small, dissolved or effectively dissolved, and left some time after this material was washed out. It’ll move in an entirely different pattern.

      October 31, 2011 at 7:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Lloyd Cata

      Fukushima surpassed Chernobyl as the worst nuclear disaster "ever". The IAEA is revising the disaster scale because if Cchernobyl was a "7", then Fukushima is probably a "10", but who'se counting when the nuclear volcano is just dormant.

      A simple question suffices: "Is the nuclear fires of Fukushima out, out of control, or just dormant?"

      Anyone who declares Ffukushima "safe" is a liar and should just answer the question.

      November 20, 2011 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
  3. Buzz Aldrin

    Fine them for littering

    October 27, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • YeahISaidItSoWhat?

      Fine them for littering? Your comment shows stupid isn't confined to morons but Imbeciles, too@

      December 29, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  4. rolloff

    and why hasnt it been cleaned up? why it allowed to contaminate oceans and shorelines?

    October 27, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Construction Debris Removal

    Great post! I will be sure to share it.

    December 21, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Karsim

    Was Wolf Blitzer totally doing something else except listening what the guy was saying for the first 1:30 or he's just plain dumb? I'm pretty sure is the 1st, because after 1m30s of this guy clearly explaining what was going on and why, the Wolf goes and shoots two questions that were clearly answered by this guy BEFORE he made the questions, or the plot was him to ask the questions BEFORE the guy explain the situation, maybe the Wolf wanted to justify the time of the segment, who knows.

    At any rate, he looked totally ridiculous asking 2 questions that were clearly answered 20 secs before.

    May 9, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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