- CRITTER TALK
Millions upon millions of tons of debris from Japanese tsunami that was swept into the ocean during Japan’s catastrophic earthquake in March – everything from furniture to roofs to pieces of cars – are now moving steadily toward the United States and raising concerns about a potential environmental disaster.
Scientists from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) using computer models say the wreckage, which is scattered across hundreds of miles of the Pacific Ocean, is expected to reach Midway and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands by next spring and beaches in California, Oregon and Washington in 2013 or early 2014.
“Can you imagine San Francisco put through a shredder? A big grinder?” said Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a Seattle oceanographer who has studied marine debris for more than 20 years.
“The area north of Tokyo was basically shredded. We are going to see boats, parts of homes, lots of plastic bottles, chair cushions, kids’ toys, everything.”
Last Monday, representatives from the Coast Guard, NOAA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. State Department and other agencies met for the first time in Honolulu to share information about the Japanese debris and begin to chart a strategy.
Among their plans: to notify the U.S. Navy and commercial shipping companies that regularly sail across the Pacific so they can begin to document what is floating. That could lead to expeditions to go map and study it.
The debris is moving east at roughly 10 miles a day, and is spread over an area about 350 miles wide and 1,300 miles long – an area roughly the size of California, with the leading edge approaching the international date line.
University of Hawaii computer models show that after 2014, the debris will end up in the “North Pacific Garbage Patch,” a vast area roughly 1,000 miles west of California where plastic debris accumulates and breaks into tiny pieces over time.
Debris from Japanese tsunami will be haunting the peoples and coastlines of the Pacific for many years.