Almost a year after Japan’s deadly tsunami, up to 25 million tons of debris is closing into the North American west coast. The debris covers an area approximately the size of California.
Oceanagraphers Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Jim Ingraham, both from Peningsula College, stated in an interview that floating debris can range from parts of houses, boats, ships, furniture, cars, and human remains.
The floating wreckage is often called flotsam.
According to Ebbesmeyer, “You’re going to have the flotsam go four places. Some is going to sink, which might be a quarter; some is going to come to North America, which might be a quarter; some is going to come around back to Japan, which might be a quarter, about six years later; some is going to go into the garbage patch, which might be a quarter roughly.”
Some pieces of flotsam already hit the U.S. in the later part of 2011. More debris are expected to wash ashore the end of 2012 and in the next two years.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard are coordinating efforts for a clean-up. However, they are unsure of how big the job will be.
“We don’t know how much is floating, we don’t know how much is buoyant, how much is under the surface, how much has broken up,” EPA Regional Director Jared Blumenfeld told ABC-7 News, “but we do know there is a huge amount of it and stuff that you don’t normally find. Cars, houses, telephone booths, I mean you name it.”
As big as the clean job will be, officials noted that even though the tsunami created nuclear threat in Japan, it is unlikely that radioactive material will hit American or Candian shores.
Months after the tsunami, a handful of organizations have started taking researchers and tourists who want to see the floating debris from the Japanese disaster through the Pacific gyre where most of the debris has accumulated.