- Workers to spend 12 days removing debris up beach on Alaskan island
- Among flotsam and jetsam are buoys, beer crates and Styrofoam items
- Oceanographer says bones of tsunami victims are likely to arrive too
Dozens of bones are expected to wash up as part of the jetsam from last year’s Japanese tsunami.
In total, an estimated 1.5million tons of debris is believed to be on the 3,500-mile journey from Japan to Alaska and other parts of North America.
Cluttered: Tsunami debris washed up on Montague Island, Alaska ahead of a 12-day clean-up mission
Oceanographer Curt Ebbesmeyer warned this week that the findings would include human remains, which will need to handled sensitively by those who find them.
‘We’re expecting 100 sneakers with bones in them,’ he said on Monday at a tsunami symposium in Port Angeles, Washington.
Anyone who discovers such remains should call 911 and wait for police. DNA may identify people missing since the tsunami hit Japan in March 2011.
‘That may be the only remains that a Japanese family is ever going to have of their people that were lost,’ Mr Ebbesmeyer said.
‘We’re dealing with things that are of extreme sensitivity. Emotional content is just enormous. So be respectful.’
Mr Ebbesmeyer is the co-creator of the Ocean Surface Current Simulator computer model, which predicts the movement of ocean flotsam worldwide using known ocean current patterns along with wind speed and direction information provided by the U.S. Navy.
Dumped: A fuel canister and a beer crate among the debris on Montague Island, Alaska
One area which is already the focus of an unprecedented clean-up operation after being swamped by rubbish is Montague Island in Alaska.
Workers plan to spend 12 days clearing the beach there, which is covered in items including balls, buoys, beer crates, Styrofoam and lunch boxes.
Montague, which is the largest uninhabited U.S. island and lies 120 miles southeast of state capital Anchorage, is likely to receive another equally large quantity by the time the year has ended.
‘The debris found on initial surveys of the island showed an absolutely unprecedented amount of buoys, Styrofoam and other high floating debris, Patrick Chandler of the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies told Fox News.
So far the wreckage floating away from Asia has included only the odd item – including the bizarre find of a Harley-Davidson and a football that was later reunited with its owner back in Japan.
Mess: A barrel and Styrofoam among the flotsam and jetsam on the island 120 miles from Anchorage
Washed up: A sign, left, and a buoy and fuel can found by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
Found: A gas bottle that washed up along with other tsunami debris on Montague Island, Alaska
From the air: A view of the island taken from a helicopter
But much bigger quantities are set to arrive thick and fast in the coming months as scientists are now saying the debris will cross the Pacific Ocean far sooner than previously thought.
The latest computer models estimate that a vast collection of debris – measuring 4,000 miles across at its longest – will start washing up this October and continue to do so into late 2013.
A recent satellite image from NASA’s Earth observatory shows the marauding mass sprawled across the ocean’s surface.
Around 4.8million tonnes – including parts of houses, factories, cars and ships – were pulled into the ocean when the earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck Japan in March last year.
While heavy items sank, at least 1.5million tonnes of lighter material such as buoys, oil drums and furniture were carried off by tides and the wind on a 4,500-mile journey to North America.
Projections made earlier this year by the International Pacific Research Centre (IPRC), in Honolulu, Hawaii, suggested most of the detritus would begin arriving between March 2013 and March 2014.
On fast tides: The latest computer models predict that thousands of tonnes of debris, shown here in a graphic interpretation of a NASA satellite image, from the Japanese tsunami will hit North American shores far sooner than expected
Devastation: The earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan in March last year washed nearly five million tonnes of debris, including boats, cars and part of houses and factories into the Pacific
Bizarre find: This Harley-Davidson was found on a remote beach on the west coast of British Columbia last week after being swept away by the tsunami last year
Stunned: The owner of the Harley, Ikuo Yokoyama (left), said the discovery by Peter Mark (right) was a miracle
Must have been a wild ride: This motorbike was also found by Peter Mark on Graham Island, western Canada
Journey: The container holding the items travelled 5,000km from Miyagi prefecture in Japan where the Tsunami struck all the way to the coasts of B.C.
But predictions from the Japanese government and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has now pushed that date forward to October this year, according toa report in The Guardian. Indeed, many lighter objects began reaching land as early as last November.
Last month, a Japanese teenager who lost his home in last year’s devastating tsunami spoke of his delight after his football washed up on a remote Alaskan beach 3,500 miles from Japan.
Misaki Murakami, 16, came forward to reveal that he was the owner of the ball discovered by American radar technician David Baxter on Middleton Island.
Mr Baxter, who also found a volleyball while out beachcombing, now plans to travel with his wife Yumi across the Pacific to return the ball.
Can I have my ball back, please?! Japanese teenager Misaki Murakami (left) told of his delight after his football was found by David Baxter (right) on an Alaskan beach. Mr Baxter’s wife (pictured) also found a volleyball
Drift: The sports balls were found on Middleton Island, about 70 miles from mainland Alaska
And yesterday, the Japanese owner of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle said its discovery on a remote beach on the West Coast of British Columbia last week was a miracle.
The owner, Ikuo Yokoyama, a 29-year-old resident of the town of Yamamoto, in Miyagi Prefecture, was tracked down by a Harley-Davidson representative in Japan who saw the story, first reported by CBC News, the broadcaster reported today.
Peter Mark, was combing the beach on Haida Gwaii islands when he made the discovery.
A clearer picture of the debris is not expected to emerge before June or July when two privately-funded expeditions are due to travel into the north Pacific.
Poignant: Items from the disaster have also been recovered in Alaska, like this sandal
Debris: Toothbrushes are among thousands of items making their way to shore after crossing the Pacific
Washington state officials, which last week released posters advising residents what may arrive on their beaches, say it is highly unlikely any human remains will be found.
Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska will get much of it, while most of California will be protected by currents pushing objects back out to sea, according to The Guardian. Hawaii, however, is in line for several deposits.
The US navy and coastguard will be monitoring the debris over fears it could pose a danger to shipping.
But for anyone worried that they may wake one day to a tsunami of trash heading towards them, Jan Hafner, of the IPRC, has these words of reassurances.
‘Most people probably think there is a huge pile of debris moving across the ocean like a carpet. But it is very sparse, very patchy.’