It’s been over a year since the earthquake and tsunami that triggered a nuclear meltdown in Japan. As the thousands of affected Japanese struggle to put the disaster behind them, physical evidence of its destruction will soon enter a never ending vortex of shame.
Scientists recently reported that an estimated 1.5 million tons of floating debris, washed into the ocean by the tsunami, is still drifting on the Pacific Ocean, and is likely destined to bob and swirl for many years in the North Pacific Gyre’s floating garbage dump.
To better predict the ultimate home of the ocean wreckage, researchers at University of Hawaii’s International Pacific Research Center (IPRC) used the Surface Currents from Diagnostic (SCUD) model to simulate where and how the debris would disperse. The model allowed them to produce the animated map you see below. Orange and red shaded areas represent parcels of water with a high probably of containing floating debris. The deeper the red color, the higher the likely concentration. The debris field stretches roughly 5,000 kilometers by 2,000 kilometers across the North Pacific.
Researchers say the debris was initially carried by the potent Kuroshio Current, which whips past eastern Japan much like the Gulf Stream in the North Atlantic. The Kuroshio carries surface waters northeast, before eventually turning east in the Kuroshio Extension and then the North Pacific Current.
As of April 3, 2012, there had been very few reports of debris at Midway Island and Kure Atoll. North winds have been minimal in recent months, and ocean currents have favored keeping the debris from the island. But those currents may be shifting, Hafner noted, and debris should eventually wash up with greater frequency, noted Jan Hafner of the IPRC.
The research team expects debris to reach the west coast of North America within a year or two, while much of it is likely to end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
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