This figure shows the probable pathways of the debris that entered the ocean on March 11, 2011, as estimated from historical trajectories of drifting buoys. View an animation. Credit: Nikolai Maximenko, International Pacific Research Center
The tsunami that hit Japan devastated buildings and farms, and carried entire houses down streets. But as waters retreated, tons of debris was washed into the sea. Where will all that garbage flow now that it has hit the open water? Researchers have created a guess at where and when we'll see refuse from the tsunami, including which shorelines will soon see debris from Japan's disaster washing up on beaches. University of Hawaii at Manoa's Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Hafner have created a model for where debris will flow. It has been based on the movement of buoys deployed over the years for scientific research, and by watching how currents move the buoys, they are showing how objects from the tsunami will travel across the Pacific.
The team estimates that the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument will start to see trash within a year, and more trash will hit Hawaiian islands shores over the following year.
Within three years, California will start to receive some of the garbage from the tsunami, and then much of the rest will be added to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Finally, in five years, Hawaii will be hit again with a larger batch, and much of it will be stuck in amongst the coral reefs along its shores.
Check out this amazing animation of how the debris moves from the shore of Japan, to the west coast of the US, and back to Hawaii.
It sounds frustrating, especially knowing that any clean-up efforts will be difficult -- afterall, the Great Pacific Garbage patch and several other trash gyres around the world are nearly impossible clean-up tasks. While tracking debris from the tsunami will aid in scientific understanding about how materials flow, and change over time in the ocean, it doesn't exactly help us do the dirty work of cleaning up the mess. Still, knowing where and when the trash will hit can help with organizing shoreline cleanup efforts.
Right now, TreeHugger Paula Alvarado is aboard the Sea Dragon with the 5 Gyres project. She's out with the research team tracking the extent to which marine litter is affecting the ocean. They're learning about the impacts of plastic pollution and, hopefully, what can be done about it.
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