Hawaiian researchers who anticipated that a wave of debris from the Japanese tsunami that occurred just over a year ago (March 11, 2011) may hit the shores of Hawaii by 2013 are prepping studies that may allow more precise predictions.
Recently, a Russian ship found tsunami debris – including a refrigerator and a 20-foot fishing vessel – in the Pacific Ocean between Japan and the Midway Atoll. The fishing vessel had markings indicating it came from Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture. This provides solid evidence of the existence of the tsunami debris. This allows researchers to make exact forecasts for the landfall of debris for Midway Atoll.
Using computer models stemming from observations of how buoys drift in the ocean, researchers predicted in April 2011 that some debris carried away by the destructive tsunami would reach the Hawaiian Islands by 2013. Then eventually, it would hit the western US coast and Canada’s coast by 2014 and bounce back toward Hawaii for another impact. CNN states that 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.
Tsunami flooding on the Sendai Airport runway
Estimates show that anywhere from 10 to 25 million tons of debris, including houses and trees, were swept away to sea by the tsunami. Like any maritime debris, a vast majority of it will either sink or end up in an oceanic garbage patch between Hawaii and California. However, researchers predict that only 1% to 5% of the tsunami debris will wash ashore. This debris is particularly noteworthy because such a huge amount was released at once and because it includes large objects not normally put into the sea. These two factors could have unique implications for marine life and ship safety, according to research professionals.
Before the end of this year, many would like to see volunteers sailing into the tsunami debris field to deploy objects to be tracked by satellite. These objects will aid in tracking where debris heading and when it will hit U.S. and Canadian shores.
More research funding is needed to monitor maritime debris and study its impact overall. The understanding of ocean dynamics is available, but there are almost no tools to monitor debris.
Photo (thumb): Energy map of the tsunami from NOAA
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