The Aftermath of a Magnitude 9.0 Earthquake

The massive earthquake that hit Japan in March – one of the five strongest recorded earthquakes ever – has been out of the headlines for a while now; there are still stories about the effect on nuclear power policy, but I personally haven’t seen much else. It turns out that scientists are hard at work tracking the debris from the earthquake as anything from Japanese boats to home appliances drift slowly across the ocean. Debris is expected to reach Hawaii in 2 years and the west coast of North America in 3 years. I imagine sitting on a beach in California and seeing a TV wash up on the shore would be a pretty powerful connection to the disaster on the other side of the world. 

From Scientific American:

Debris from the devastating tsunami that hit Japan on March 11 has turned up exactly where scientists predicted it would after months of floating across the Pacific Ocean. Finding and confirming where the debris ended up gives them a better idea of where it’s headed next.

The magnitude 9.0 quake and ensuing tsunami that struck off the coast of Tohoku in Japan was so powerful that it broke off huge icebergs thousands of miles away in the Antarctic, locally altered Earth’s gravity field, and washed millions of tons of debris into the Pacific.

Scientists at the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa have been trying to track the trajectory of this debris, which can threaten small ships and coastlines. The new sightings should help the scientists predict when the debris, which ranges from pieces of fishing vessels to TV sets, will arrive at sensitive locations, such as marine reserves…

Warned by maps of the scientists’ model, a Russian ship, the STS Pallada, found an array of unmistakable tsunami debris on its homeward voyage from Honolulu to Vladivostok.

Soon after passing Midway Islands, crew members aboard the Pallada spotted a surprising number of floating items.

“Yesterday, i.e. on September 22, in position 31 [degrees] 42,21 N and 174 [degrees] 45,21 E, we picked up on board the Japanese fishing boat. Radioactivity level — normal, we’ve measured it with the Geiger counter,” wrote Natalia Borodina, information and education mate of the Pallada. “At the approaches to the mentioned position (maybe 10 – 15 minutes before) we also sighted a TV set, fridge and a couple of other home appliances.”

Later, on Sept. 27, she wrote: “We keep sighting every day things like wooden boards, plastic bottles, buoys from fishing nets (small and big ones), an object resembling wash basin, drums, boots, other wastes. All these objects are floating by the ship.”

… The most remarkable piece of debris is of a small fishing vessel about 20 feet (6 meters) long, which they were able to hoist up onto the Pallada. The markings on the wheelhouse of the boat show its homeport to be in the Fukushima Prefecture, the area hardest hit by the massive tsunami.

I never really thought about this aftereffect of a tsunami. It’s pretty devastating… I’m glad Canada is boring. 

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