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Sunday, April 10, 2011

From Japan With Love, and possibly some radiation

Those who live on the west coast of North America are no strangers to marine debris from Japan washing up on our doorstep. From barnacle-coated trash to coveted glass fishing floats, oriental flotsam gathers on our shores every spring. In 2014 though, beachcombers can likely expect a glut of debris specifically set adrift by the devastating tsunami which hit Japan on March 11th. This according to a model by researchers at the University of Hawaii (below).

A week back, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer featured an article on the mass of debris that is slowly making its way over from Japan. It's possible that some of the debris would be radioactive, but the expert interviewed for this piece felt that the risk would be minimal after almost three years at sea.
The article included an interview with renowned west-coast oceanographer (and editor of the Beachcombers' Alert) Curt Ebbesmeyer, who has studied the effect of currents on everything from bath toys and running shoes lost at sea to dead bodies and severed feet. He and his colleague, Jim Ingraham, are also modeling the path of the debris, using a program that Ingraham originally developed determine the effects of ocean currents on salmon migration. Ebbesmeyer noted that while last month's tsunami was a particularly large one-time source of marine debris, it still pales in comparison to the total amount that is dumped into the ocean on a regular basis.


  1. So in two to three years I ought to start looking for radioactive feet? Good to know.

    What do the numbers on the colour bar represent?

  2. They never actually say what units the colour scale is in, but I'm assuming that it indicates density. But for all I know, it could indicate the probability of finding a severed foot.

    Let this be a lesson to all you modelers (in the words of my first year, chemistry teacher): label your axises!

  3. I am reminded of this xkcd comic.