Researchers track tsunami debris across the Pacific Ocean

Published: Apr. 7, 2011 at 10:23 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 12, 2011 at 7:03 PM HST
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Nikolai Maximenko
Nikolai Maximenko

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's already on its way and the researchers say the rubbish from the Japanese tsunami will hit Hawaii not once, but twice.

Researchers at the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa are tracking the tsunami debris from Japan. They're using real time satellite data and what they know about ocean currents.

To see the animated image of the tsunami debris path click here.

"Here what is shown is the trajectory of the particles released from this coast of Japan," said Jan Hafner, International Pacific Research Center. "The basis of all this is based on observation."

They produced an animated image which tracks the projected path of all the debris.  The red means the debris is more dense.

"Every piece of garbage, every piece of debris is somewhat different from other pieces, yet they have something in common, their movement and areas where they collect and where they go on beaches. They end up usually the same both for large trees and micro plastic," said Nikolai Maximenko, International Pacific Research Center.

They have used data from 15,000 drifting buoys and in about two years the first debris will hit the main Hawaiian Islands.  Then in five years it will double back and hit Hawaii again and ultimately end up in the garbage patch just north of the state.

"We live in Hawaii on the edge of the biggest dump site in the world," said Maximenko.  "We live in paradise on the edge of hell."

While the science is there to predict the path the technology isn't to clean it up and eventually people will have to do something about it.

"When swallowed by birds and fish they become part of food chain that leads to us, to humans," said Maximenko.

At which point the floating rubbish is not just ugly it's unhealthy.

Click here to view the complete Press Release.

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