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. bobcat2u

    I feel the same way. I love my seafood, but since the oil spill, I'm not willing to take that chance.

    October 26, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Amick

    Not that I have a clue as to how to clean up such a mess, but I'd feel a lot better knowing there was someone (hopefully lots of someones) working on something proactive. Not looking for a solution, just a starting point. Gotta start somewhere...

    October 26, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. dragonex

    I do hope there are people brainstorming on the correct action to take to cleaning up the pacific. There a good job prospect for a lot of people if implemented right.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Amick

    Exactly! We just said the same thing. That would be ideal, and hopefully people will come together for a bigger, common goal. And I'm sure we'll need volunteers, serious volunteers. Wonder how long it will take to get a disaster declaration.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Portland Tony

    We could take some of those nuclear bombs we are deactivating and drop them on the debris field. Kinda like dynamite fishin'!

    October 26, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. gung hoe

    @amick and once we get done with the pacific we can go over to the atlantic to gather up ny citys trash that they thought for years that would be a great idea to turn the atlantic into their own junkyard.Does anyone remember a commercial on T V about littering .It showed litter and them a Indian with a tear running down his face,well they do that now and that indian would be balling his eyes out

    October 26, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    Who will pay these workers to clean up the Pacific Ocean?
    Would they do it, or is it demeaning?
    It's difficult for New Yorkers to find anybody to clean up an apartment.
    I know all the nasty replies to that true statement, so don't bother telling me.
    "Jobs, jobs, jobs."

    October 27, 2011 at 5:19 am | Report abuse |
  8. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    I don't have to go to an OWS demonstration to learn that workers with college degrees don't want jobs cleaning houses.
    On the other hand, I know people with doctorates who can't attempt to make a noun possessive or plural and get it right every time.
    "Hello, I'm Doctor Blank. There aren't any job's."

    October 27, 2011 at 5:30 am | Report abuse |
  9. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    No Child Left Behind

    October 27, 2011 at 5:34 am | Report abuse |
  10. :-)

    No need to clean the oceans their done for anyhow, focus an taking over the world that's the motto ... sarcasm...

    October 27, 2011 at 5:46 am | Report abuse |
  11. Sheryl

    Joey, I can't see anything wrong with that sentence you wrote at 5:30 AM.
    It's chilly in here.

    October 27, 2011 at 5:54 am | Report abuse |
  12. JIF

    Put on your wrap.

    October 27, 2011 at 5:56 am | Report abuse |
  13. citizen

    This oceanic floating garbage patch is definitely a harbinger of things to come for this just in.

    October 27, 2011 at 6:15 am | Report abuse |
  14. mary

    This is really awesome ! Free televisions and appliances ! Im hoping to get one of the fridgerators ! We raally should be happy to be getting all this cool free stuff.

    October 27, 2011 at 7:21 am | Report abuse |
  15. leeintulsa

    I wonder if anything fragile will make it. That'd be cool to me. If something real delicate survived not only the quake and tsunami, but came all the way across the pacific..? What are the odds?

    October 27, 2011 at 7:38 am | Report abuse |
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