As if the numerous earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear meltdowns in Japan weren’t bad enough, the resulting debris from the March 11th tsunami is now heading for Hawaii, and eventually to the West Coast of the United States. The conglomerated debris has made up a garbage island of houses, tires, chemicals and trees that researchers estimate will float across the Pacific and hit Hawaii’s shores in just a year.
A research team at the International Pacific Research Center of the University of Hawaii at Manoa has been studying the patterns of debris flow in the Pacific for years using computer models that are fed data from tagged floating buoys. The researchers estimate that after the 2012 touchdown in Hawaii, the debris will make its way to the entire West Coast of North America by 2014. By 2016, it is estimated that the debris will bounce back for a second run at Hawaii, leaving little time for its beaches, reefs and wildlife to recover.
It is unclear how all of this garbage will be dealt with, or the frequency of debris washing up on beaches. Water currents and flow eventually bring ocean debris to an area called the North Pacific Garbage Patch, an indeterminate area (which is an estimated hundreds of miles in diameter) in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Acting like a whirlpool, the world’s plastics, chemical sludge, and trash congregate there. It is estimated that 80% of the Garbage Patch’s contents come from land-based sources, leaving only 20% from ships.