News / Asia

    Tsunami Debris Could Hit Mid-Pacific Island Soon

    Russian sail training ship, the STS Pallada, found an array of unmistakable tsunami debris on its homeward voyage from Honolulu to Vladivostok.
    Russian sail training ship, the STS Pallada, found an array of unmistakable tsunami debris on its homeward voyage from Honolulu to Vladivostok.

    A huge amount of debris from the tsunami that struck Northeast Japan more than eight months ago, appears to drifting eastward in the Pacific Ocean more quickly than anticipated.

    The large and potentially hazardous debris field from Japan's March 11 tsunami is now forecast to begin coming ashore at Midway island in the Pacific as soon as December or January.

    The prediction comes from the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawaii. Scientists revised their forecast after the tons of floating debris were spotted by a Russian vessel off Midway in late September.

    Among those aboard was Nikolai Maximenko a senior researcher from the center. He and his collaborator Jan Hafner, a scientific programmer at the research center, realized the debris is moving faster than expected.

    "Obviously the first pieces would be the light ones," Haffner said. "The pieces that are actually floating on the surface like empty bottles, some plastic bottles, styrofoam or maybe some wooden structures. And that would be, more or less a precursor, or a kind of warning for people on Midway that more heavy and bigger stuff is behind."

    Oceanographers say the largest chunks of debris are potential hazards to navigation, marine life such as the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, reefs, beaches and facilities on the island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    Fukushima-based boat found by Russian ship crewFukushima-based fishing boat found by Russian ship crew (Photo courtesy STS Pallada/Natalia Borodina)

    The crew of the Russian ship spotted a Fukushima-based fishing boat, home appliances, lumber from destroyed houses and other heavy items. There could be toxic materials, as well, as entire coastal Japanese communities were swept out to sea by the tsunami.

    The researchers say it is a common misconception that the debris is in a compact area, which would make it easy to track via satellites in space or other monitoring equipment. Instead, oceanographers estimate the debris field is approximately 3,700 kilometers long and 1,800 kilometers wide.

    Officials of agencies responsible for the Pacific Ocean environment say they are still grappling with how to formulate mitigation plans after learning some of the mess could begin accumulating on west-facing beaches of the Hawaiian islands as soon as March, 2012.

    Graphic of floating Tsunami debris
    Graphic of floating Tsunami debris

    Hafner and his colleagues are making what a best guess as to when it will also hit the West Coast of the United States and for how long it will continue to wash ashore.

    "This influx of tsunami debris, it's hard to tell right now exactly the beginning and the end. But based on our kind of statistical predictions we expect to see the tsunami debris for less than one year from about September, 2013 on the West Coast," Hafner said.   

    The tsunami was triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the coast of northeastern Japan on March 11.

    Japanese officials say the tsunami was responsible for killing most of the 20,000 people who died in the disaster, which also triggered the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant.


    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

    You May Like

    Video Obama Remembers Fallen Troops for Memorial Day

    President urges Americans this holiday weekend to 'take a moment and offer a silent word of prayer or public word of thanks' to country's veterans

    Upsurge of Migratory Traffic Across Sahara From West to North Africa

    A report by the International Organization for Migration finds more than 60,000 migrants have transited through the Agadez region of Niger between February and April

    UN Blocks Access to Journalist Advocacy Group

    United Nations has rejected bid from nonprofit journalist advocacy group that wanted 'consultative status,' ranking that would have given them greater access to UN meetings

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora