Oceanographer tracks marine debris from the Japan tsunami and other incidents

Authors


Abstract

[1] In the wake of the 11 March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and resulting tsunami that struck Japan, much of the debris that washed out to sea continues to float slowly on ocean currents across the Pacific Ocean. The leading edge of a dispersed field of debris that has not already sunk or biodegraded was estimated by a computer model to be about halfway across the Pacific, north of Midway Island, as of 31 July, 142 days after the tsunami. According to Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a consulting oceanographer who has been involved with tracking various kinds of ocean flotsam for decades, the debris field, which encompasses an area about the size of California, could begin to reach the U.S. West Coast by March 2012. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Satellite and Information Service was able to track the debris field until mid-April, when the debris became too dispersed to be detected in satellite imagery. Ebbesmeyer, formerly an oceanographer with Mobil and Standard Oil, told Eos that he does not have any recent physical evidence of the debris field because it is now widely dispersed and still far away from any landfall. Ebbesmeyer said, though, that his confidence level for the debris field's estimated size and location is “very high.”

Ancillary