Remains of the Day; March 2012; Scientific American Magazine; by Elizabeth Grossman; 1 Page(s)
The earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan last March created an estimated 25 million tons of debris, large amounts of which washed into the ocean. Soon after the disaster, satellites photographed and tracked large mats of wreckage—building parts, boats and household objects—floating off the Japanese coast. Now, according to computer models developed by Nikolai Maximenko and his colleagues at the University of Hawaii and at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the detritus is on course to reach the northwestern Hawaiian Islands early this year.
Given what is known about the hazards of floating refuse, scientists are taking the potential threat seriously. Already as much as 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces harbor garbage that ranges in size from shipping containers to derelict fishing gear to small bits of plastic that can entangle or poison marine mammals. Researchers want to find out not only if the influx will threaten Hawaii but how it might interact with what is now out there.