Posted by admin | 10.28.2011 | Conservation, Marine Science

Debris on course for early arrival

It has been more than 6 months since the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated Japan, and the clean up still continues. Meanwhile, in another part of the world, the wave of destruction isn’t done yet. Since March 11, debris from the tsunami has continued on its eastward course – all 20 million tons of it.

Scientists have known that this debris field would traverse the vast Pacific basin; what was unforeseen, however, was the rate at which it would travel. Russian researchers were tasked with documenting the garbage patch’s progress during an ocean currents training cruise. As they travelled west from Honolulu they kept a lookout for the debris and found it off the Midway Islands. Researchers had originally estimated it to take two years to reach the Hawaiian Islands, but now it looks to arrive early, around the winter of 2012 or early spring.

Scientists aboard the STS Pallada spotted furniture, TVs, refrigerators, drums, and even a 20 foot fishing boat scattered amongst smaller items of debris. The boat had Fukushima painted across the side; the name of the prefecture, city, and power plant that all received heavy damage. All of this news comes at a time, when we have assigned high value to Hawaii’s beautiful habitats. A recent study found that the Americans estimate the economic value of the main islands coral reefs at around $33.5 billion.

While the increased movement of the debris field is distressing, the volume released is staggering. In a single day around 10 million tons of debris was released into the north Pacific basin – equivalent to the amount released in a single year. While some of the heavier items will fall out and sink, several million tons will continue across the Pacific. Next target after Hawaii: the US West Coast in early 2014.