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

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies 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.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid