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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

NOAA has best information about Japanese tsunami debris

By Curt Hart, communications manager, Shorelands & Environmental Assistance Program

The tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011 washed much of what was in the inundation zone into the Pacific Ocean as it receded from land.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, heavier materials sank closer to shore while buoyant materials went on to make up debris fields in the waters surrounding Japan.

NOAA assessing debris, potential impactsNOAA is taking the lead on efforts to collect data, assess debris and possible impacts based on sound science, and protect our natural resources and coasts. The agency has created a comprehensive website to answer questions about the Japanese tsunami debris.

According to NOAA, the debris fields seen in the ocean off the Japanese coast right after the tsunami are no longer visible. Winds and ocean currents have scattered items in the Pacific Ocean.

Nancy Wallace, director of NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, has posted a blog about the facts and misconceptions surrounding the tsunami debris issue.


Where, when beach impacts still uncertain

NOAA scientists are using models designed to help predict when and where the debris may show up on the West Coast – including Washington. Debris is expected here in early 2013. There’s a lot of uncertainty about:



  • What’s still floating in the ocean.


  • Where it’s located.


  • Where it will go.


  • When it will arrive.

Radioactive threats extremely slim

However, NOAA has concluded that any debris is extremely unlikely to be radioactive because:


  • The tsunami debris was washed out to sea well before any leak occurred at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

  • The debris was generated over hundreds of miles along the Japanese coast while radioactive water leaked from just one place.

Washington agencies working with NOAA, other partners

In Washington, several state agencies including the departments of Ecology, Health, Military-Emergency Management Division, Natural Resources, and Washington State Parks, have a response role should Japanese tsunami debris wash up on our coast.

We are working closely with NOAA to assess and evaluate potential tsunami debris impacts to:


  • Our coastal communities.

  • The public’s health.

  • Our beaches, lands and environment.
This effort includes working closely with our local and tribal government partners to help ensure that any needed response is well coordinated.


Helping our coastal communities

Since January, NOAA and several state agencies have presented information and answered questions at eight public meetings along our coastal communities and tribal centers.

We are preparing a response plan so that when and if the debris arrives in early 2013 our communities will have ready access to questions about the debris.


Report tsunami debris to NOAA

In the meantime, if you think you’ve found any Japanese tsunami debris, report it to NOAA at disasterdebris@NOAA.com.


Report oil spills and hazardous materials to state and federal officials

As always, immediately notify the proper state and federal authorities if you spot an oil spill or find containers with possible harmful chemicals inside. Be safe. Don’t hesitate to call 1-800-OILS-911 and 1-800-424-8802.

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