Projecting the Path of Japan’s Tsunami Debris
Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Hafner
IPRC scientists have developed a statistical
ocean current model based on actual trajectories
of drifting buoys (a form of marine debris)
deployed by oceanographers over many years.
The model has successfully predicted the
accumulation of plastic debris in 5 so-called
“garbage patches” in the subtropical gyres.
They are using this model to project the path of
the material washed into the ocean by the
devastating March 11, 2011 tsunami. The results
indicate that the plume of floating debris will
spread eastward from the Japanese coast in the
North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. The North-
western Hawaiian Islands will see tsunami
debris washing up on their shores in a year; the
US West Coast in 3 years; the remaining debris
will drift into the North Pacific Garbage Patch.
Some of the debris is then predicted to escape
the gyre and arrive on Hawaii’s beaches in about
Snapshots from the model projections for the trajectory of the 5 years.
floating tsunami debris. Red indicates highest debris
concentration, light purple, least.
These projections will help guide clean-up and