Experts: Tsunami debris will reach Oregon

Credit: AP

A firefighter examines the damage of a house in Saito, Miyagi Prefecture, Monday, March 14, 2011 after Japan's biggest recorded earthquake slammed into its eastern coast Friday. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

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by Keely Chalmers, KGW staff

kgw.com

Posted on March 28, 2011 at 5:33 PM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 29 at 3:16 PM

Poll:
Are you concerned about Japan's tsunami debris reaching Oregon?

PORTLAND, Ore. -- As Japan struggles to recover from the devastating earthquake and tsunami, there are new concerns emerging about the massive amount of pollution, trash and debris that is floating out to sea and headed toward the West Coast.

PSU oceanographer and geology professor Curt Petersen has studied ocean currents for years. He says debris from the Japanese tsunami is currently making its way across the Pacific Ocean. It's getting caught up in a large gyre -- a system of ocean currents that will eventually circulate the debris over to the coast.

"We might expect to find light plastics and Styrofoam bottles and things like that coming across first," explained Peterson.

More: Earthquake coverage and resources

Air crews are spotting debris from the tsunami, including entire houses, that have already been carried miles out to sea.

Peterson believes the heavier debris will sink, but he predicts we will see the lighter stuff, including washed-up timber from all the devastated structures, in about a year.

His prediction is based in part on an accident that happened back in 1990 involving Nike shoes. A barge tipped over spilling the shoes into the Pacific. It took about nine months before the shoes showed up on our beaches.

"The wreck occurred about one-third of the way across (the ocean)," said Peterson.

Based on that information, experts believe it will take about one year for the debris from Japan to reach our shores.

The non-profit group Stopping Oregon's Litter and Vandalism says it'll be ready when that debris does wash up. The group already organizes two massive Oregon beach clean-ups every year.

"We know that we can organize people to get out and help take care of the problem once it's there," said SOLV executive director Melisa McDonald.

Peterson anticipates debris from the tsunami will continue to show up on our coast for about three to five years as it keeps circulating around the Pacific Ocean.

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