Japan Tsunami Flotsam–Prediction for Northwest

February 16, 2012

Based on predictions, it looks like debris from the tsunami in Japan will not enter the Straits of Juan de Fuca or Queen Charlotte Strait and the waters of the Inside Passage, but boaters in the Pacific Northwest need to be aware of the possibility of serious debris hazards.

An estimated 25 million tons of debris, which occupies an area roughly the size of California, is headed for the coast as a result of the earthquake that struck off the coast of Japan last March.

Peninsula College oceanographers Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Jim Ingraham told the Huffington Post that the wreckage could include virtually anything that floats– portions of houses, boats, ships, furniture, cars and even human remains (athletic shoes can act as flotation devices).

“You’re going to have the flotsam go four places,” Ebbesmeyer explained to the the American Foreign Press. “Some is going to sink, which might be a quarter; some is going to come to North America, which might be a quarter; some is going to come around back to Japan, which might be a quarter, about six years later; some is going to go into the garbage patch, which might be a quarter roughly.”

Flotsam began to hit the United States in late 2011; however, a great deal more will likely wash ashore over the course of the next couple of years–with the majority arriving next winter.

The Environmental Protection Agency has begun coordinating with the U.S. Coast Guard on an extensive clean-up effort, but the agency admits they’re still largely in the dark about exactly what the scale of that effort will be.

“We don’t know how much is floating, we don’t know how much is buoyant, how much is under the surface, how much has broken up,” EPA Regional Director Jared Blumenfeld told ABC-7 News, “but we do know there is a huge amount of it and stuff that you don’t normally find. Cars, houses, telephone booths, I mean you name it.”

Again, at this time, it is not expected that the Pacific Northwest will be affected, but this could change as part of the debris could break off from the debris field. It will be interesting to monitor. We will keep you informed.

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