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Japan tsunami debris floating toward Hawaii

By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 12:25 p.m. HST, Oct 25, 2011

Up to 20 million tons of tsunami debris floating from Japan could arrive on Hawaii's shores by early 2013, before reaching the West Coast, according to estimates by University of Hawaii scientists.

A Russian training ship spotted the junk — including a refrigerator, a television set and other appliances — in an area of the Pacific Ocean where the scientists from the university's International Pacific Research Center predicted it would be. The biggest proof that the debris is from the Japanese tsunami is a fishing boat that's been traced to the Fukushima Prefecture, the area hardest hit by the March 11 disaster.

Jan Hafner, a scientific computer programmer, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that researchers' projections show the debris would reach the coasts of Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Canada around 2014.

They estimate the debris field is spread out across an area that's roughly 2,000 miles long and 1,000 miles wide located between Japan and Midway Atoll, where pieces could wash up in January. Just how much has already sunk and what portion is still floating is unknown.

"It's a common misconception it's like one mat that you could walk on," he said.

Hafner and the principal researcher in the project, oceanographer Nikolai Maximenko, have been researching surface ocean currents since 2009. When the Japan earthquake and tsunamis struck, they applied their research to the rubble sucked into the Pacific Ocean from Japan. They used computer models to track its path, but until the Russian ship STS Pallada sailing from Honolulu contacted them last month, they had no direct observation of the massive debris field.

"From a scientific point of view, it was confirmation that our research was doing something right," Hafner said. "It was big news for us. But it was mixed feelings because you can't be excited about something as tragic as a tsunami."

The magnitude-9.0 earthquake produced the sort of devastation Japan hadn't seen since World War II, leaving more than 21,000 dead or injured. The tsunami that followed engulfed the northeast and wiped out entire towns.

The waves inundated the Fukushima plant, triggering the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. However, it's highly unlikely the tsunami-generated debris would be contaminated with radioactive material, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's marine debris program. NOAA is also gathering information about debris sightings.

After news of the Russian ship's findings, the scientists have been receiving calls from media worldwide.

The scientists want boaters venturing in the area of the debris to send them details about what they see. Researchers want to know details such as GPS position, time, weather and descriptions of the items.

"We are trying to get across our message that it is coming and it's about time to start planning some action," Hafner said.




Animation showing path of debris field

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LemonySnickets wrote:
I can imagine what our currents are doing with our rubbish in the sea. Where it lands no one else knows.
on October 25,2011 | 10:12AM
entrkn wrote:
This debris field will choke and smother the Hawaiian Islands... HELP!
on October 25,2011 | 10:25AM
maximus wrote:
I think Not. Yesterdays news was all about it hitting the US mainland and showed a picture of the estimated location, far North of the Hawaiian chain. Now today another story how it could wash up here. Sounds like someone just looking to fill some blanks in the newspaper.
on October 25,2011 | 11:15AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
And you thought surfing the North Shore was dangerous before....
on October 25,2011 | 11:43AM
entrkn wrote:
I'm reading the comments... they don't get it that this part of the tsunami is a quantumly bigger threat than almost any tsunami waves and surges. Our fisheries may be destroyed for a long long time... our reefs may be destroyed for hundreds of years... tourism may be reduced by more than 90%. This is not a casual joke... this may be the end of Hawaii as we know it and love it.
on October 25,2011 | 08:48PM
mischal wrote:
Another account estimated it will reach Hawaii within a year. That will kill the tourist industry for sure.
on October 25,2011 | 10:17PM
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