Tsunami Debris Field
March 24, 2012 6:26 PM   Subscribe

Just a little over a year ago 20 million tons of debris were generated by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, much of that is now drifting eastward.

That plume of debris has spread steadily eastward and is expected to drift and circulate for years to come (15 year model) . This debris field is being tracked daily by the International Pacific Research Center. Recently a 50 foot fishing vessel, presumed to be empty, has been sighted moving towards the coast of Canada. The ship is anticipated to make landfall in approximately 50 days.

Although it is anticipated that much of the debris will eventually end up in the North Pacific Garbage Patch, it is still likely that there is going to be some interesting beach-combing in a couple of years.
posted by HuronBob (17 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
She's not so pretty but she surely is seaworthy. RIP.
posted by Anitanola at 6:45 PM on March 24, 2012

Regarding beachcombing, NOAA would appreciate photos and location description [PDF] of any suspected tsunami debris found on US west coast beaches. They are also recommending any items that appear to be personal mementos to be turned into a Japanese consulate in the hopes that the items might be reunited with their owners.
posted by jamaro at 7:10 PM on March 24, 2012 [11 favorites]

The debris has finally reached, and is surrounding, the islands of Midway.
This Flickr series of images provides some documentation of the debris that has washed up.
I wonder whether the US and Canada will have policies in place, within the next few years, regarding beach visits, or at least the handling of the debris by beach visitors. We certainly have a long coastline, with most of it free of residences, in BC and in WA state.
posted by seawallrunner at 7:19 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The tsunami debris has been washing up on the west coast of Vancouver Island for a while now, although nothing as large as a fishing boat has turned up yet.
Glass fishing floats from Japan have long been prized beach-combing treasures in these parts but as jamaro mentions, some of what will wash up in the months to come will have a certain poignancy and will deserve respectful handling.
posted by islander at 7:22 PM on March 24, 2012

some of what will wash up in the months to come will have a certain poignancy and will deserve respectful handling.

One hopes that one respects radioactive material.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:33 PM on March 24, 2012

A smart person would pay more attention to the dispersal of radioactive water.

>We all knew that there was a cloud of debris that would hit the USA --- spend more time thinking about irradiated fish though.

Cause, you know: there's a whole land of plastic out there. If you were really bothered, you'd try and clean it up. So ~ either go all in, stop eating fish, or STFU and stop whining.

>I don't eat fish. At all. Land mammals? Sure ~ YUM. Fish? No ~ That would condemn 2.6 billion people to a nasty death within 15 years

So yeah... Fish! Fish! ... Sigh.
posted by Jernau Morat Gurgeh at 7:36 PM on March 24, 2012

rough ashlar writes "One hopes that one respects radioactive material."

Is radioactive flotsam a real problem; at least in this debris field? I thought the surge of debris was from the Tsunami and the radioactive release was post Tsunami. Or has Japan just been dumping radioactive jetsam into the ocean
posted by Mitheral at 8:19 PM on March 24, 2012

Just want to put in a recommendation for Flotsametrics. The author talks about his years of researching the flow in the oceans, the dozen or so global gyres that make up the system, and lots of interesting stories on the things that have floated along them.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:36 PM on March 24, 2012

> This Flickr series of images provides some documentation of the debris that has washed up.

Note the dates;
Debris and Injured Birds in Lagoon at Midway Atoll
Floating island of debris and injured birds in lagoon at Midway Atoll.
This photo was taken on March 12, 2011

That's the result of the original tsunami reaching that location, it washed debris up over the nesting area. The debris field now crossing the Pacific is different.
posted by hank at 10:41 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm anticipating all kinds of interesting stuff washing up on Oahu's Windward coastline in the next few years, instead of the usual tangled fishing nets and broken plastic fishing floats (glass fishing floats very rarely turn up any more) I'm accustomed to finding. I almost wonder if anything will make it all the way here intact after covering the distance from Japan to Oahu.

Only time and tide will tell.
posted by motown missile at 1:16 AM on March 25, 2012

One hopes that one respects radioactive material.

About 20,000 people died in the earthquake and tsunami. And now stuff like a single child's shoe is washing up on a coast an ocean away. And no one knows where the child is, or the other shoe.

Please be witty in other threads, and show respect to people in this one.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:22 AM on March 25, 2012 [8 favorites]

You aren't going to find any large chunks of radioactive material in the debris: While several nuclear powerplants were hit, radioactive material isn't the sort of thing you leave lying around. Generally it is encased in large lead boxes (Which sink) or giant concrete vaults (Which both sink and don't move).

Yes, some radiation was released after the Tsunami, but it wasn't in debris form; it was airborn and seaborn particles. This radiation will dilute in water. Think of dumping a container of dye into the sea; even if all the dye heads for the US, you aren't going to see it for very long as it is going to dilute very quickly. I'd be surprised if we could even detect it when it arrives, but let me know if you want the inside scoop when it does; I worked with the people who will be monitoring it in BC last summer. ^^
posted by Canageek at 7:33 AM on March 25, 2012

...some of what will wash up in the months to come will have a certain poignancy

I find just about everything that washes up out of the sea to have a certain poignancy.
posted by Flashman at 9:20 AM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fukushima Radioactive Ocean Impact Map - March 2012 Update

It's not the best map, as it doesn't exactly explain the significance or degree of radioactive contamination.

Anyway, the governments of Alaska, Washington and British Columbia have developed and agreed upon a protocol for dealing with massive amounts of debris, and in BC at least, the provincial and federal governments are working closely with the consulate in Vancouver to help identify, and if possible, repatriate artifacts of significance.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:52 AM on March 25, 2012

I should say that, as others have pointed out upthread, the westward drift of tsunami debris and the concentration of radioactive isotopes in the water column are separate things entirely.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:53 AM on March 25, 2012

A Japanese chum is quite irate at Western media labeling the material in this plume "debris" -- it's made up of the remnants of peoples' lives, and hence deserves a bit more respect.
posted by Rash at 10:33 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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