Japanese tsunami debris to peak in 2013


Beaches up and down the west coast of Canada and the United States are littered with tonnes of debris from the devastating tsunami that hit Japan's east coast in March 2011, and based on projections, the worst of it hasn't even arrived yet.

Up to 20 million tonnes of debris were swept into the ocean following that tragic event, and it is being carried eastward by the North Pacific ocean current, which flows directly past the Pacific coast of Japan and then straight across the Pacific Ocean to the west coast of the United States. At that point, the current splits, flowing north as the Alaska Current and south as the California Current.

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In a NASA/JPL simulation using the Surface Currents Diagnostic model, developed by the International Pacific Research Center, the debris field undulates its way across the ocean in an almost eerie fashion. The first concentrations show up off the coast of Alaska in September 2011, followed by the beaches of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and northern California before flowing back towards the north.

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The majority of the debris will likely remain out in the ocean, trapped there by eddies in the currents, however hundreds of tonnes have already washed ashore and estimates put the peak amount at close to 1.5 million tonnes, in British Columbia alone. The influx of debris is supposed to peak sometime this year, but model projections show that it will continue to impact our shorelines until at least 2016, and likely longer.

Although the governments of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California have made an agreement on how to deal with the debris, much of what has floated ashore still sits on beaches today.

If you happen to locate tsunami debris, it can be reported to the B.C. provincial government on their website (click here). Beware of containers that held (or hold) petroleum products or chemicals, however there is very little chance of any radiation exposure from the debris, as much of it was washed out to sea before the accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant.

(Photo, video, image credits: Living Oceans Society, NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, IPRC/University of Hawaii)

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