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.

Post by:
Filed under: 2011 tsunami • Hawaii • Japan
soundoff (101 Responses)
  1. bobcat2u

    I saw this on the news yesterday. That is a lot of debris headed this way. 25 million tons.
    It made me start thinking of all the debris that was pulled out of here by Katrina. Where did it go ?

    October 26, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Portland Tony


      October 26, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  2. banasy©

    Valid question, bobcat.
    Where *does* it go?
    Surely we would have foung out about a massive floating garbage heap floating in the Atlantic, right?

    October 26, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. banasy©

    Lmao@Portland Tony.

    October 26, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. bobcat2u

    Not to be argumentative banasy, but that would be the gulf of mexico.
    But I do wonder why we never heard anything.

    October 26, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. dragonex

    Why didn't ja pan make any attempt to clean it up? What if its radio active?

    October 26, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. banasy©


    I know, but doesn't the Gulf empty out to the Atlantic, or do I really need to brush up on my geography?
    It's possible; you live there, so you'd know better than I.
    Hey! Let's go look! We'll go on a three-hour tour!
    I'll pack my evening gowns. 😉

    October 26, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
  7. banasy©


    Oh, that's another very good question!
    Japan has a lot of clean-up left, but really, how much could they have done?

    October 26, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
  8. bobcat2u

    That is another good questio.
    It would be a wes and a no answer. I know there is a gilf stream that come around florida and up the east coast, but in the central gulf, I just don't know.
    Can anybody answer this for us ? You know-Inquiring minds.

    October 26, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobcat2u

      should be question. But yo already know that.

      October 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  9. dragonex

    There is a current flowing in and out of the gulf. When we had the oil disaster they were concerned on the oil going into the atlantic via the keys and cuba. When they added the chemicals to break down the oil it just made it sink. The floor of the gulf is coated inches/feet thick of muck oil deposit.

    October 26, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
  10. RUFFNUTT (kcmo resident and smoker of fine purple kush)

    THIS is just like pearl harbor all over again...

    October 26, 2011 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. dragonex

    We had to clean up their mess then and looks like we are gonna clean up their mess again. Once the debris hits our shores we have to. We should send them the bill for doing it.

    October 26, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • - Rent this space -

      Is that why we help people in disaster zones? To be repaid?

      October 26, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christine

      Yeah, they chose to have an earthquake and a tsunami wipe out hundreds of their houses, businesses, and schools. And then, instead of holding onto the debris to prevent them from going out at sea and poluting our coast, many of them died a horrible death or were left injured or orphaned. Then there was this little radioactive problem and clean up onland, and trying to get food and shelter and start a new life with PTSD. So yeah, why didn't they also clean up the Pacific? Easy right, do you think it could be done by a dozen people in a couple weeks?

      October 27, 2011 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
  12. bobcat2u

    Thank you. I rememeber the worry of the oil getting into the gulf stream. That really made a mess of our beaches. You are also correct about the oil sinking. I told this to many people and they say you're crazy, oil doesn't sink. So I just don't argue with them.

    I understand BP has been given the ok to do their deep drilling again.
    Hope it's not dejavu all over again.

    October 26, 2011 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
  13. dragonex

    Let's hope there isn't a repeat scenario. I am surprised how they are saying its OK to eat the shrimp and other sea life. They hushed up the stories of dolphin babies dying and other fish dying with skin ulcers washing on shore. I like my seafood but ask where its from. But then I can get lied to. In the early 80s there was a scare on eating crabs, shrimp, mussels and clams out of the chesapeak bay in maryland and new jersey. People continue to pollute the waters we feed from.

    October 26, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Headstones

    Where does it go when it's gone and how does it end
    The faces are lost scattered in the wind

    October 26, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Amick

    Why do we have to wait to start cleaning up the mess? They're predicting it will be floating at sea for the next 2 to 3 years. Surely there is something we can do in the mean time. So sccary to think of the long term effects on our oceans and fishing and eceonomy and ... wait ... I'm having de ja vu.

    October 26, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5