Debris from Japanese tsunami comes earlier than expected

Tsunami debris pushes thousands of miles to start arriving on U.S. shores

SEATTLE | May 26, 2012



"unfortunately 99.999 percent of debris doesn't come with a label"

—Curtis Ebbesmeyer


Scientists and lawmakers say debris from the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last year is reaching U.S. shores sooner than expected.

Fishing floats, soccer balls, fuel tanks and fishing vessels let loose by the 9-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami pushed thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean, carried by currents and winds, already started to arrive on U.S. shores. The U.S. Coast Guard recently blew up a Japanese fishing vessel drifting through the Gulf of Alaska.

In all, more than 200 bottles, cans, buoys and floats was reported to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which says none of the material is considered radioactive because it was dragged to sea before the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

Tracking the flotsam specifically to Japan is difficult because it generally lacks something identifiable, scientists said.

"Unfortunately 99.999 percent of debris doesn't come with a label," retired Seattle oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer told the Times. "Lawyers want something with a street number or a boat name on it. Flotsam isn't like that, so basically you can't positively track anything back to Japan."

Ebbesmeyer compiles reports from West Coast beachcombers on his blog and has tallied at least 500 foam and plastic floats and fuel cans that have shown up from Japan since October -- about 167 times the normal rate.

With debris making landfall sooner than predicted, U.S. lawmakers have started to question whether the government is truly prepared.

"Many people said we wouldn't see any of this impact until 2013 or 2014, and now ships and motorcycles and this various debris is showing up and people want answers," U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said.

2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


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