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, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

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.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid