Tsunami Debris Field Floating to West Coast Landfall (Photo Gallery)

by on November 4, 2011
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110313-N-5503T-176 PACIFIC OCEAN (March 13, 2011) An aerial view of debris from an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck northern Japan. The debris was inspected by a helicopter-based search and rescue team from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Ships and aircraft from the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group are searching for survivors in the coastal waters near Sendai, Japan. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alexander Tidd/Released)

110313-N-SB672-368 PACIFIC OCEAN (March 13, 2011) An aerial view of debris from an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck northern Japan. The debris was inspected by a helicopter-based search and rescue team from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Ships and aircraft from the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group are searching for survivors in the coastal waters near Sendai, Japan. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dylan McCord/Released)

110313-N-SB672-592 PACIFIC OCEAN (March 13, 2011) An aerial view of debris from an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck northern Japan. The debris was inspected by a helicopter-based search and rescue team from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Ships and aircraft from the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group are searching for survivors in the coastal waters near Sendai, Japan. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dylan McCord/Released)

110314-N-3997W-062 PACIFIC OCEAN (March 14, 2011) Debris float in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Japan after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck the nation on March 11. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Steve White/Released)

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Something Sendai this way floats, and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) doesn’t want to wait until its projected 2014 arrival on West Coast shores to get ready for it. (Hawaii should see tsunami debris in 2013.) [SEE UPDATE AT END OF POST]

After the 9.0 earthquake hit Japan on March 11 of this year, the ensuing tsunami swept more than 200,000 houses (not to mention boats and cars) out to sea, where oceanographers predict they will make a slow journey to the West Coast, stopping off first at the Hawaiian Islands.

The massive sea-going debris field is said to measure 350 miles wide by 1,300 miles long, and to travel at ten miles per day. Eventually, some part of it will reach U.S. shores, and Cantwell would like to know how we are going to deal with it before then.

This week, Cantwell “introduced and secured passage of an amendment to address the threat approaching tsunami debris poses to industries up and down Washington’s coastline,” says the press release. The Senate Commerce Committee approved the amendment at a markup hearing, along with Cantwell’s Pacific Salmon Stronghold Conservation Act. (Also this week, Cantwell and Alaskan senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich asked Senate Appropriations for funding to test for a deadly-to-salmon virus, rather than depending on Canadian test results alone.)

“We in the Washington economy depend on our waterways for a great deal of our commerce,” argued Cantwell. “We have everybody from workers at restaurants to tourist visitors that are all going to be impacted by this. We can’t wait until all of this tsunami trash washes ashore. We need to have an aggressive plan on how we’re going to deal with it.”

NOAA satellites tracked the debris field for about the first month after the tsunami, but as it dispersed in the water, they began to lose sight of it. However, the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet has caught up to a portion of it, with the largest agglomeration of debris reaching 69 miles in length.

No one really knows how much will reach the West Coast; a good deal of it is likely to join other ocean garbage, in the much larger debris field known as the”North Pacific Garbage Patch“–it’s a little sickening to note that as immense as the tsunami debris is, it’s a drop in the ocean compared to what ends up there because we have thrown it into the ocean. “Patch” is actually inaccurate two ways. It’s more of a plastic-particle soup, and so you can describe it as having various sizes depending upon what concentration of plastic particles you are comfortable with: If you are comfortable with not much at all, it’s about the size of Texas.

UPDATE: From KOMO TV/Seattlepi.com:

A local oceanographer says while the bulk of the debris will take several years to arrive, items that float could hit the Washington shore any day now.

“My message is the debris – big objects – could be here now,” said oceanographic detective Curt Ebbesmeyer. “Aircraft wings, boats, big buoys — big objects that catch the wind that can be here now.”

Filed under Environment, News, Politics

3 thoughts on “Tsunami Debris Field Floating to West Coast Landfall (Photo Gallery)

  1. You would think all of this would be a hazzard to navigation? What federal government agency would be in charge of cleanup? I would hate to see how much damage or sinkings this could cause.

  2. Is anything being done to try and retrieve
    some of the “trash” before it actually comes ashore? Barges could theoretically pick up debris and bring it to land and have it buried or recycled.