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Up to 5 percent of tsunami debris could reach Hawaii and mainland

By Audrey McAvoy

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 12:23 p.m. HST, Feb 28, 2012

Tsunamis generated by the magnitude-9 earthquake in Japan last March dragged 3 million to 4 million tons of debris into the ocean after tearing up Japanese harbors and homes.

Scientists believe ocean currents are carrying some of the lumber, refrigerators, fishing boats and other objects across the Pacific toward the United States. 

One to 5 percent of the 1 million to 2 million tons of debris still in the ocean may reach Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon and Washington and British Columbia, said University of Hawaii senior researcher and ocean current expert Nikolai Maximenko.

That’s only a portion of the 20 million to 25 million tons of debris the tsunamis generated altogether, including what was left on land. 

Maximenko plans to discuss Tuesday at a news conference his latest estimates for where the debris is and when it may wash ashore. Last year, his team estimated debris could arrive in Hawaii in early 2013.

Some debris appears to have already arrived in the U.S., like a half-dozen large buoys suspected to be from Japanese oyster farms found in Alaska late last year.

Nicholas Mallos, conservation biologist and marine debris specialist for the Ocean Conservancy, said many of the objects are expected to be from Japan’s fishing industry. The conservancy is hosting the news conference.

Fishing gear could harm wildlife, such as endangered Hawaiian monk seals, if it washes up on coral reefs or beaches.

“The major question is how much of that material has sank since last year, and how much of that remains afloat or still in the water column,” Mallos said. 

It’s unclear whether items like refrigerators will make it across because there’s little precedent for such things in the ocean. 

Computer models created by the University of Hawaii indicate the debris is spread far apart across thousands of miles from the eastern coast of Japan to an area some 1,000 miles north of the Hawaiian Islands.

“The debris field is largely dispersed over a large area. And because of that dispersion, we can no longer rely on satellite imagery to track the debris,” Mallos said.

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manakuke wrote:
Here it comes,
on February 28,2012 | 04:54AM
1local wrote:
food for HPOWER. Free energy...
on February 28,2012 | 05:09AM
allie wrote:
Japan should send men to clean up their mess. They failed to biuild and maintain a nuke plant that could survive such a disaster.
on February 28,2012 | 06:31AM
motoxdad wrote:
allie, your youth really shows on your posts, these subjects are for grown-ups, you might want to think about commenting on the disney boards.
on February 28,2012 | 08:24AM
allie wrote:
That is so mean! Japan should want to help. Hawaii helped them in their time of need.
on February 28,2012 | 09:53AM
Toneyuki wrote:
This debris has nothing to do with the nuclear plant. It is from a major natural disaster that killed thousands and destroyed the homes of millions. Saying that it is "their mess" is ignorant.
on February 28,2012 | 02:38PM
Anonymous wrote:
Friends sent me pictures of similar floats and Japanese light bulbs washing up in northern Washington.
on February 28,2012 | 06:38AM
Toneyuki wrote:
How can you tell if the light bulb is Japanese?
on February 28,2012 | 02:39PM
saveparadise wrote:
There's a job for the homeless and those collecting welfare and unemployment. Come on legislators start thinking out of the box and put these people to work and give them a chance to regain some pride and motivation......
on February 28,2012 | 07:25AM
al_kiqaeda wrote:
Wow, that's such a good idea that makes a lot of sense...so you know it will never happen.
on February 28,2012 | 07:54AM
awahana wrote:
Love the confused comments so far. If you study up, worst case scenario is that it will affect shipping lanes to hawaii, and we will not get the tankers of oil we need to generate electricity (thus rolling blackouts), including food shipments, and everything else as we are not sustainable in the islands.
on February 28,2012 | 10:19AM
TLehel wrote:
Natural disasters such as tsunamis will of course bring problems such as this. The best we can do is be prepared for the debris when it comes. I hardly think Japan should have to help us clean up something that really isn't their fault, but knowing how honarable they are and how much they support the islands in general, they may send people here. They've got enough to deal with as it is if you ask me, though.
on February 28,2012 | 11:36AM
jankenpo wrote:
Too bad all the debris is not bunched up. If it was, they could just blow it up into smithereens.
on February 28,2012 | 02:27PM
niimi wrote:
That's much less debris than what is produced by our state legislature, governor, City Council and our sitting and emeritus mayor over the past 5 to 6 years. The largest amount of debris produced is in the form of heavy rail that is the wrong implementation for our small population on Oahu.
on February 28,2012 | 04:25PM
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