Tag Archives: Japan tsunami

Mapping the tsunami debris

Have you seen the new model from NOAA of how debris from the 2011 Japan tsunami is traveling east across the North Pacific? It’s from a year afterward, March 2012. Watch it on YouTube to learn more about the model and what will happen to the debris that doesn’t wash up on land.


Tsunami debris hits Oregon early, bringing alien species

NPR has some of the best stories on the huge dock that traveled from Japan to wash up on Agate Beach, near Newport, Oregon, 15 months after the devastating tsunami.

Here’s one from AP, which details painstaking efforts made to remove alien species that arrived with the 70-foot dock and that might gain a foothold and threaten native seaweed and shellfish. A similar story about scouring and even blowtorching the metal to remove the aliens that aired on NPR (and you can listen to it as well) has residents suggesting that the dock may attract tourists to the Newport area.

My favorite story, from All Things Considered on June 19, tells what it’s like to patrol the beach in Oregon or Washington, watching for plastic bottles with Japanese writing. The reporter, Martin Kaste, quotes Carey Morishige, Pacific Islands coordinator of NOAA’s marine debris program, who works out of Honolulu and does a very big job with a very small staff (and the North Pacific is a very big place). The best description of the dock with its hitchhiking species is by an Oregon State University biologist specializing in invasive species; he calls it “an island that had drifted across from Asia.” This metaphorical island came with real residents, however, and unwelcome ones judging by the hostility of their reception.

Japanese Tsunami Debris Headed Our Way

There are various sites tracking the massive amounts of debris dragged off land by the tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011, and headed eastward across the Pacific. It’s not really a debris field because the material–houses and their contents, fishing boats, even small freighters–is so dispersed, and it’s not actually being tracked because it is no longer detectable by satellite. Rather, its possible trajectory  has been modeled by computer and vessel sighting reports. It’s also impossible to know how much of the estimated 25 million tons is still on its way; some of it undoubtedly has sunk and some has degraded. A good place to start learning about the threat to the west coast of North America and Hawai’i, including the national marine monument in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands,  is the Ocean Conservancy Tsunami Debris site. This “what you need to know” page explains the potential danger of the debris to wildlife and reefs and features a close-up photo of some debris,  including a boat keel.

For an overview of the debris’s projected movement based on the computer models of Jan Hafner and Nikolai Maximenko, researchers at the International Pacific Research Center (IPRC), University of Hawai’i, visit the Tsunami Debris Tracking Project. For an animated simulation of its anticipated spread for the next few years click here (warning–takes time to load).  The IPRC also issued a press release about a Russian sailing ship that in October found tsunami debris where the scientists had predicted, confirming the accuracy of the projections.

The Ocean Conservancy site also puts the tsunami hazard into perspective, calling this “high-profile case of ocean debris . . . just a small part of the overall ocean trash problem. A tsunami’s worth of ocean trash is created every year simply by the things we buy, use and throw away.” Unlike the natural disaster that struck Japan, we can do something about this annual tsunami of trash; try what the Ocean Conservancy recommends, such as tracking your throwaway habits via Keep the Coast Clear, and watch for more posts on what you can do to slow the scourge of plastic pollution.