PORTLAND, Oregon - Portland State University geology professor and Oceanographer Curt Petersen says debris from the Japanese tsunami is caught up in a large circle, and is currently making its way across the Pacific Ocean. He says it's a system of ocean currents circulating the debris toward the Oregon coast.
"We expect to find plastics and Styrofoam bottles and other lightweight material moving in this direction first," said Peterson
Another well-known oceanographer from Seattle, Curt Ebbesmeyer agrees. He says a good amount of debris from Japan's tsunami and earthquake will wash up on the West Coast within one to three years.
How fast the flotsam arrives depends on the size and weight of the material, said Ebbesmeyer. A derelict vessel could take 12 months, while a rubber ducky may take a couple years.
He says the debris will likely flow in a big circle, carried by currents from Japan to Oregon, Washington, British Columbia before moving toward Hawaii and then back toward Asia.
Most of the debris will be plastic items, Ebbesmeyer said. Heavier items like cars will naturally sink.
Ebbesmeyer and another scientist have been mapping the path of ocean debris for years and he wrote a book about the research.
In May of 1990, a storm south of the Alaskan peninsula knocked 21 containers off a ship delivering goods from Korea to the United States. Four containers burst open, releasing 61,000 brand new Nike sneakers and boots to the mercy of the winds and surface currents.
The next Thanksgiving, hundreds of shoes bobbed up on beaches in northern Washington. By spring, beachcombers collected shoes from Oregon to the Queen Charlotte Islands on the Canadian coast. The press printed and broadcast the, and Curt was quickly on the job. He learned that each shoe set adrift had a distinct serial number making it the largest sudden release of numbered objects at one time in the world.
Curt Ebbesmeyer said that when investigating the paths of ocean currents, he studies satellite images and data from buoys.
Ebbesmeyer says that with the giant 9.0 earthquake in Japan and the devastating tsunami, that millions of particles and debris from Japan are slowly and inevitably making their way to the shores of the west coast.
Photo 1: Debris from Japan's tsunami and earthquake