MANOA (HawaiiNewsNow) - University of Hawaii ocean scientists originally forecast that debris from last year's tsunami in Japan could reach the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands by early 2013. But the possibility now exists for an earlier arrival date - maybe by the end of the year.
"This trajectories of debris, they're not random. Debris is following some preferred and pretty narrow paths of corridors," said Nikolai Maximenko, senior researcher and ocean current expert with the International Pacific Research Center.
Maximenko and Jan Hafner said currents have changed direction, and the southern edge of the debris field is moving closer to land.
"We think it's now only a matter of time," Maximenko said. "It's a matter of a few weeks or a few months when tsunami debris will start showing up on Midway."
The debris is forecast to pass north of the Hawaiian chain on the way to the U.S. Mainland, and make landfall there by the second half of 2013.
Maximenko said some debris that heads for the continental U.S.will probably get sucked into a "garbage patch" that sits between California and Hawaii, and get sporadically spit out toward Hawaii, where it could wind up on windward beaches for years to come.
"We estimate 95 to 99 percent of debris will re-circulate southward and it will end in the convergence zone," he said.
Maximenko estimates the tsunami dumped 20 million tons of debris into the ocean.
"For now, amount of floating debris is reduced to between one and two million tons, which is still a huge amount," he said.
Maximenko estimates up to 100,000 tons could reach coastlines in Hawaii, Alaska, Canada and the U.S. mainland.