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 VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Kurdish service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions 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.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs