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. Idont

    get why we are "studying" it's movement instead of sending ships to find and clean it up.

    October 27, 2011 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
    • mybad


      October 27, 2011 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
    • nepawoods

      You don't have a good sense of how big a job that would be.

      October 27, 2011 at 8:35 am | Report abuse |
    • wallie walnut

      LOL are you serious? you cant clean up all of that. It would take forever

      October 27, 2011 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Thought

      that may be true, ideally, that would mean longer terms for the contractors doing the job...(job creation maybe?)

      October 27, 2011 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
  2. Laogiant

    Almost eight months and the debris was just found?

    October 27, 2011 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
    • MidRanger

      It's a big ocean!

      October 27, 2011 at 8:33 am | Report abuse |
    • wallie walnut

      you are aware of the size of the ocean right?

      October 27, 2011 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
  3. sononi

    What, they just going to let it pollute our country. Get the boats and contain that toxic waste.

    October 27, 2011 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
    • richard

      25 billion pounds? Contain it? Even if you could make a boom (like for oil) big enough to surround it, it would be torn apart under its own weight. Best they can do is take sections of the stuff and dispose of it. The cost would run in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

      October 27, 2011 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
    • richard

      Sorry, make that 50 billion pounds.

      October 27, 2011 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
    • wallie walnut

      you going to fund it?

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

    Let's see...what do I want from that country? (Ja-
    Not the Suzuki Method of teaching music to children.
    All the sashimi I could get, it the radioactivity wouldn't burn my fingers off trying to eat it.
    Not their original musicality.
    Oh–their work ethic! No...that doesn't travel across the Pacific, unless it arrives in individual human beings.
    All of their sound systems make too much noise, and acoustical enhancement in opera houses (even hidden in wigs) has ruined our concept of vocal technique.
    I'll take their courtesy, even when they're angry.

    October 27, 2011 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
    • JS

      Sounds like you like to live in a bubble. Don't knock other cultures and what we can all share with each other.

      October 27, 2011 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
  5. IceT

    At least the floating stuff can eventually be cleaned up, it's all the non floating/visible things that sink & dissolve that are the biggest concern. This outa sight outa mind mentality is the real problem.

    October 27, 2011 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
    • nepawoods

      It will never be cleaned up. There are already patches of floating garbage in the pacific hundreds of miles wide. They won't be cleaned up.

      October 27, 2011 at 8:37 am | Report abuse |
    • wallie walnut

      impossilble to clean all that up

      October 27, 2011 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  6. Blackinbama

    Gia is angry

    October 27, 2011 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
    • richard

      Gaia. Make the envirokooks eat the stuff.

      October 27, 2011 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
  7. s kel


    October 27, 2011 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
  8. s kel


    October 27, 2011 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
  9. Gaadffly

    Large objects? Maybe we will see some Toyotas and Hondas wash ashore. Shame they will be last years models.

    October 27, 2011 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
  10. Responder

    RADIOACTIVE waste!

    October 27, 2011 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  11. benji

    Godzilla could burn it all with his fiery breath!

    October 27, 2011 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
  12. Growup

    See, we would have to pay people to clean all this mess because they want something in return but in reality, we just need some alien overlords to electric-whip us into doing it for free.

    October 27, 2011 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
  13. justathought

    This sort'a reminds me of a story that took place many years ago when the wife of a wealty tirant had him killed ahd his body dumped far out in the ocean. The lady decided to take a voage. A few days later a terriable storm struck and the ship was being tossed about like a cork. In the middle of the night the cabin door of the old lady was flung open and the wind and rain rushed in awaking the woman. She was about to get up when she heard a moaning vioce groaning, "It floats–it floats–it floats.". Terrified woman asked, "What floats?", but there was no answer, only the howling of the wind. The next night as the storm continued the same thing happened. The conscience of the old woman began working on the woman, and she couldn't sleep. The third night the door was again flung open and the sleepless, frightened old lady screemed out for pitty, "What floats, tell me, tell me, please, please, o' please, tell me, what floats!" The bodiless voice answered, "Ivory soap, it floats!"

    October 27, 2011 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  14. cam007

    More than likely the debris will not be radioactive since the tsunami came first, then the collapse of the reactor(s)....even if some debris did become contaminated, it was washed away from the water.

    October 27, 2011 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
    • whiskers

      A sensible and rational response to a fear alluded to by CNN? Unspeakable!

      October 27, 2011 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
  15. Scottish Mama

    I'm a fool to do your dirty work, oh yeah, I don't wanna do your dirty work noooo more. We need to clean it up and clean up the swirling miles of trash in the Pacific. Let's just clean it up and be done. The whales and other marine life need to live there and I don't believe it is the animals job to clean up human mass trash heaps. Jobs paid for by all countries. A bonding experience.

    October 27, 2011 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
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