Tsunami Debris Approaches U.S. Coast

Tsunami Debris remains a concern along the U.S. west coast. Although it has been four years since the catastrophic Tōhoku earthquake, an estimated one million tons of debris threatens to litter the United States shoreline over the next three years.

The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, and resulting tsunami, left nearly 20,000 dead and more than 2,500 missing. In addition to damaging more than 700,000 structures, the earthquake and tsunami caused extensive damage to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

As Japan struggles to recover from the devastation, tsunami debris is an ongoing concern along the U.S. west coast.

As reported by MSN, the 2011 tsunami carried an estimated five million tons of debris into the Pacific Ocean. Although a vast majority of the refuse settled on the ocean floor, an estimated one million tons of debris is still floating on the surface.

Researchers with Oregon State University, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Japan’s Tottori University, are working together to assess and monitor the tsunami debris as it progresses toward the U.S. coastline.

The researchers are using tracking devices, of various size and weight, to stimulate debris. The devices have helped researchers understand where the debris is distributed and how it is affected by weather and wave patterns.

Sam Chan, a researcher at Oregon State University, confirmed a majority of the debris remains approximately 25 miles away from the coast. However, it covers hundreds of miles “from California to Alaska.” Over the last four years, warm air and calm weather patterns have kept most of the debris away from the shore.

However, Chan said things are about to change. As the weather patterns are expected to intensify, local storms could force the tsunami debris onto beaches along the U.S. coastline.

In the last four years, officials and volunteers in Oregon and Washington have removed several tons of tsunami debris from local beaches.

Portland, Oregon, volunteer Russ Lewis said a majority of the debris consisted of “baskets… lids and… a lot of culinary items.” As reported by KGW News, Lewis has removed several truckloads of debris from the Long Beach Peninsula since November 2011.

“When it first started out it was like a big mass of debris. Then it started separating out. It’s been kind of a progression.”

As tsunami debris continues to threaten the U.S. coastline, researchers are keeping a close eye on changes in weather and wave patterns.

[Image via Flickr]