As if the tragic loss of life and ongoing nuclear woes weren’t enough, researchers Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Hafner at the International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii, predict that the massive deluge of debris that last month’s tsunami washed into the sea is headed across the Pacific. Using data from drifting oceanic buoys, the model predicts the debris will first spread out within the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre and start washing up in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (NW Hawaiian islands) in a year. In three years, the rest of the Hawaiian islands, the US West Coast, British Columbia, Alaska, and Baja California will see effects on their shorelines. After the journey, the researchers predict that the debris will enter the North Pacific Garbage Patch and eventually get broken done into smaller particles. In five years, Hawaii is expected to see another, more severe plume of oceanic trash. Hopefully, these projections will help to inform clean-up responses. The oceanic trash that does not either wash up on shorelines or sink, can end up in marine organisms.
The animation from the International Pacific Research Center shows likely debris path and timeline (press release, PDF). Top image: Debris offshore of Honshu, Japan. Image: US Navy. Hat tip: Emmet Duffy at SeaMonster.