Everything Goes Somewhere

The March 2011 tsunami that devastated Japan swept millions of tons of debris into the Pacific Ocean. Volunteers on the California coast are preparing to collect it from the beaches.

The March 2011 disaster washed about 5 million tons of debris into the sea. Most of that sank, leaving an estimated 1 1/2 million tons afloat. No one knows how much debris — strewn across an area three times the size of the United States — is still adrift.

Tsunami flotsam has already touched the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii this year. The West Coast is bracing for more sightings in the coming months as seasonal winds and coastal currents tend to drive marine wreckage ashore.

Like the past winter, scientists expect the bulk of the debris to end up in Alaska, Washington state, Oregon and British Columbia.

Tracking the debris will create another model of how ocean currents circle the world. Nothing disappears, it’s all one interdependent web of life.

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