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NOAA: There is No Island of Tsunami Debris Floating Toward the US

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Nov 06, 2013 03:20 PM EST
NOAA Tsunami Debris Map
After publishing a map detailing the theoretical position in the Pacific Ocean of debris from the March 2011 tsunami that hit Japan, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had to issue a clarifying statement: “There is no solid mass of debris from Japan heading to the United States.” (Photo : NOAA / Marine Debris Program )

After publishing a map detailing the theoretical position in the Pacific Ocean of debris from the March 2011 tsunami that hit Japan, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had to issue a clarifying statement: "There is no solid mass of debris from Japan heading to the United States."

The statement, made Tuesday on NOAA's Marine Debris Program blog, came in the wake of various media reporting that an island of tsunami debris was floating toward the West Coast of the US.

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The media reports, some of which stated there was a Texas-sized island of tsunami debris floating toward the US, developed from a NOAA report last week that updated the latest tsunami debris information.

The confusion about the floating island of debris came from the NOAA map above, which predicts the position of the tsunami debris based on simulations of how ocean currents and wind likely dispersed it. The crosshatched area near Hawaii represents the region with the highest concentration of tsunami debris, not a cohesive "island" of debris.

"At this point, nearly three years after the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, whatever debris remains floating is very spread out. It is spread out so much that you could fly a plane over the Pacific Ocean and not see any debris since it is spread over a huge area, and most of the debris is small, hard-to-see objects," NOAA wrote on its Marine Debris blog.

While a huge amount of debris was generated by the March 11, 2011 Great Japan Earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan's northeastern coast, most of it has already sunk to the bottom of the ocean.

Japan's government estimates more than 20 million tons of debris were created by the disaster. Twenty-five percent of that 20 million tons is believed to have washed out to sea. Of the marine debris, 70 percent is believed to have sunk near Japan's coast, leaving an estimated 1.5 million tons of debris floating in the Pacific Ocean.

"Even though there's no mass, addressing this debris is very important," NOAA said, adding that it is working with state and local governments to mitigate any impacts the tsunami debris may have on the US coast. "We'll continue that work as long as necessary. We're happy to answer any questions you may have. Feel free to email us at MarineDebris.Web@noaa.gov."

Click here for a NOAA video regarding tsunami debris.

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