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Are We Prepared for Tsunami Debris ?

January 30, 2013

tsunami waves

The tsunami that devastated Japan is a human tragedy—the disaster took more than 15,000 lives and destroyed whole communities. Now floating debris that washed into the ocean is landing on U.S. and Canadian shores and will continue over several years. The NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) is leading the Japan Tsunami Marine Debris Assessment and Response Framework efforts with federal partners such as NPS along with state and local partners to collect data on debris quantity, location and movement, assess potential impacts, and plan for efforts to reduce possible impacts to our natural resources and coastal communities.

Because of the large potential area of debris drift in the North Pacific Ocean, it is critical to explore a broad range of methods for debris detection. Specific efforts to detect and track the debris field include by vessel, plane, satellite, modeling, and monitoring. Most scientists, though, expect that the debris will be difficult to distinguish from the normal marine debris that occurs in the North Pacific Gyre and washes ashore every day. The only indications that marine debris specifically from the Japan tsunami is making landfall may be changes in the quantity or the composition of debris compared to what is observed normally.

Nevertheless, NPS is working with NOAA to acquire baseline information on the marine debris that is currently stranding on U.S. coastlines in advance of the influx of tsunami debris. Using NOAA’s standardized shoreline monitoring protocols, baseline marine debris surveys will be conducted for a two-year period in several NPS units. Results of the monitoring will help indicate when and where Japan tsunami marine debris is making landfall and will inform regional contingency plans as they are developed by state and federal partners in all areas of potential impact. The NOAA MDP website has the latest information on the tsunami marine debris http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/tsunamidebris/. Also, state partners have developed a website to focus on regional information http://disasterdebris.wordpress.com.

—Article taken from the NPS Pacific Ocean Newsletter, May 2012 (Image from NOAA)—

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