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. Stevelb1

    That include the radioactive debris?

    October 27, 2011 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Linda

      most likely it won't be radioactive since the release occurred after the tsunami pulled the debris out to sea.

      October 27, 2011 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • driranek

      Most stuff light enough to float doesn't become highly radioactive and tends to lose radioactivity fairly quick. The real bad stuff is all metallic and sinks. And as Linda says, this particular junk was already well out to sea by the time most of the radioactivity was released. On the other hand, you probably don't want to know about the bottom of the Fukushima harbor.

      October 27, 2011 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  2. SoldierOfFortunes

    Probably...but they won't care until the radioactive debris ruins their ocean front situation...people are lame now...

    October 27, 2011 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
  3. KindredMac

    Wow... how insightful of a report...
    Typical media trying to trump it up and make it sound like the coastal surfing waters will be a soup of garbage that boaters and surfers will be hitting things all the time.
    Plus, stop using touch screen displays to show how wind blows... Are you serious? If you need to illustrate how wind blows and makes things go faster in the water than society should call it quits.

    October 27, 2011 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Busted

      Really? You are such an anti media elitist that even this story is considered trumpt up? Give me a break. Go back to ridiculing the liberal media for reporting that troops were killed in Iraq.

      October 27, 2011 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Bobo on the Corner

      What article are you reading?

      "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."

      How is that trumping it up?

      October 27, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. CowgirlLife

    if they can find the debris and plant tracking devices in it, why cant it be netted or collected to be disposed of properly?

    October 27, 2011 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
    • hello

      So your idea is to send ships to the middle of the pacific ocean and somehow collect 25million tons of garbage, appliances, trees and then bring it where? at what cost?

      October 27, 2011 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Kat

      There's too much of it. It's cost prohibitive.

      October 27, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • blah9999

      Not to mention houses

      October 27, 2011 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
    • driranek

      These 25 million tons are only a small fraction of what's out there. Even so, setting up a charity to collect the junk sounds a lot more useful than many other charities.

      You wouldn't actually have to get a boat that can carry megatons of stuff – you'd just have to net the junk and pull the net...

      October 27, 2011 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  5. ELH

    I would guess that the debris from the tsunami is but a fraction of the trash, garbage and other junk that gets deposited in the world's oceans every year by illegal dumping, storm runoff and so on.

    October 27, 2011 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  6. cam007

    Working as a nuclear health physics for 22 years, in nuclear power plants, not everything becomes radioactive. There are different types of radiation, which is different from contamination – which there are different types also. Objects don't just all of a sudden become "radioactive". And yes, if objects became contaminated, then of course the old saying "dilution is the solution" is true. If the items came directly from the containment or the "fuel floor", then perhaps they are now radioactive.

    October 27, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  7. Linda

    why don't they send vessels to COLLECT the debris instead of just studying it?? I mean I know they won't be able to get it all, but there has to be collections of the debris out there.

    October 27, 2011 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  8. Ed Sr

    Some of the debris already reached Hawaii! The debris is called OBAMA!

    October 27, 2011 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
    • driranek

      You got my vote for the Daily Lame Award.

      October 27, 2011 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Busted

      Oh boy we got ourselves a tea bagger. How can you tell if you are dealing w/a true tea bagger? Tea baggers can fit two acorns in their mouth at once.

      October 27, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  9. jferg

    repeat: earthquake, then tsunami, power is lost because of one of these events, resulting in core meltdown *days* later, long after water has receded. so not radioactive. timelines, people!

    October 27, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  10. cacbar

    Was the food in the refrigerator still good?

    October 27, 2011 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
    • ExTexan

      It's people like you who make reading these replies wothwhile! Thanks for the belly-laugh!

      October 27, 2011 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • ExTexan

      Sorry – that's worthwhile. (Damn cordless keyboard!)

      October 27, 2011 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • driranek

      Yes, and it will be for its estimated half-life of 23,000 years.

      October 27, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  11. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    Look at me! I'm surfing on a house!

    October 27, 2011 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  12. Ron

    It's not just "an oceanic garbage patch", it has a name, it's called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch or sometimes the Pacific Trash Vortex.

    October 27, 2011 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  13. banasy©

    @Scottish Mama:
    Nice nod to Steely Dan.

    October 27, 2011 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  14. Maddy

    Garbage by any other name is still garbage...giving it a name does not make it any less garbage...

    October 27, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  15. Scottish Mama

    If we have to pick it off our shores it will cost us anyway. Pay now or pay later. If it is still floating and has not sank yet, this is the best time to retrieve it. I would also think it if we are tracking it we know where it is.

    October 27, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
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