Saturday, November 12, 2011

Expert: Debris from Japan will arrive any day now

SEATTLE -- Debris the size of California is headed for the U.S. coast. The materials were swept out to sea after a massive earthquake and a tsunami hit Japan last March.

A local oceanographer says while the bulk of the debris will take several years to arrive, items that float could hit the Washington shore any day now.

"My message is the debris - big objects - could be here now," said oceanographic detective Curt Ebbesmeyer. "Aircraft wings, boats, big buoys -- big objects that catch the wind that can be here now."

Ebbesmeyer, a self-described Sherlock Holmes of the ocean, says scientists are missing the big picture.

"Month by month, we saw it coming," he said.

Ebbesmeyer agrees with the government that 100,000 tons of debris - mostly moving underwater - will hit the U.S. coast in 2013, but he insists no one is paying attention to the debris that floats. He's convinced debris is moving three times faster, and it's not just garbage that will arrive.

"How should we treat all the debris that is coming our way with respect? Not just clean it up and burn it," he said. "In all that debris are mementos from families."

Ebbesmeyer says it's critical to preserve those items for those who lost them. In 2009, he tracked a fishing buoy that floated to the Washington coast all the way from a village in Japan. He found the owners, and those fishermen came to Washington to see it "all to put their hands on this buoy one last time," said Ebbesmeyer. "It was so moving."

The oceanographer works with a network of beachcombers, and is asking the public to report any found debris on his website, What may seem like trash just might just be something with meaning.

"I find out where is the gold in the science and where is the gold in the human interest. And very often human, interest is much more important that the science," he said.



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