Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Where will the debris from Japan's tsunami drift in the ocean?

The huge tsunami triggered by the 9.0 Tohoku Earthquake destroyed coastal towns near Sendai in Japan, washing such things as houses and cars into the ocean.

Projections of where this debris might head have been made by Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Hafner at the International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa. Maximenko has developed a model based on the behavior of drifting buoys deployed over years in the ocean for scientific purposes. What this model predicts about the tsunami debris can be seen in Figure 1.

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. An animation can be viewed at
Credit: Nikolai Maximenko, International Pacific Research Center

The debris first spreads out eastward from the Japan Coast in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. In a year, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument will see pieces washing up on its shores; in two years, the remaining Hawaiian islands will see some effects; in three years, the plume will reach the US West Coast, dumping debris on Californian beaches and the beaches of British Columbia, Alaska, and Baja California. The debris will then drift into the famous North Pacific Garbage Patch, where it will wander around and break into smaller and smaller pieces. In five years, Hawaii shores can expect to see another barrage of debris that is stronger and longer-lasting than the first one. Much of the debris leaving the North Pacific Garbage Patch ends up on Hawaii's reefs and beaches.

These model projections will help to guide clean-up and tracking operations. Tracking will be important in determining what happens to different materials in the tsunami debris, for example, how the composition of the debris plume changes with time, and how the winds and currents separate objects drifting at different speeds.

Even before the tsunami, the World Ocean was a dump for rubbish flowing in from rivers, washed off beaches, and jettisoned from oil and gas platforms and from fishing, tourist, and merchant vessels. Marine debris has become a serious problem for marine ecosystems, fisheries, and shipping. The presentations given at the recent week-long 5th International Marine Debris Conference in Hawaii, at which Maximenko had organized a day-long workshop, are a testimony to the magnitude of the ocean debris problem. The massive, concentrated debris launched by the devastating tsunami is now magnifying the hazards.

Maximenko's long-standing work on ocean currents and transports predicted that there are five major regions in the World Ocean where debris collects if it is not washed up on shores or sinks to the ocean bottom, deteriorates, or is ingested by marine organisms. These regions turn out to be "garbage patches." The North Pacific Garbage Patch has become famous, the North Atlantic Patch was fixed some years ago, and the South Atlantic, South Indian Ocean, and South Pacific patches have just been found, guided by the map of his model that shows where floating marine debris should collect.

The research was supported by NOAA, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), and NASA which sponsor research at the International Pacific Research Center.

Researcher Contact: Nikolai Maximenko (808) 956-2584; email:

IPRC Media Contact: Gisela Speidel (808) 956-9252; email: IPRC/SOEST, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1680 East-West Rd., POST Building 401, Honolulu, HI 96822.

The International Pacific Research Center (IPRC) of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, is a climate research center founded to gain greater understanding of the climate system and the nature and causes of climate variation in the Asia-Pacific region and how global climate changes may affect the region. Established under the "U.S.-Japan Common Agenda for Cooperation in Global Perspective" in October 1997, the IPRC is a collaborative effort between agencies in Japan and the United States.

Gisela Speidel | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht UCI and NASA document accelerated glacier melting in West Antarctica
26.10.2016 | University of California - Irvine

nachricht Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere
25.10.2016 | American Geophysical Union

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>