Tsunami Debris

Modeling floating debris generated by the 11 March 2011 Tohoku-oki tsunami

A global ocean circulation model is coupled to a particle-tracking model to simulate the transport of floating debris washed in to the North Pacific Ocean by the Tohoku tsunami. A release scenario for the tsunami debris is based on coastal population and measured tsunami runup. Archived 2011/2012 hindcast current data is used to model the transport of debris since the tsunami, while data from 2008 – 2012 is used to investigate the distribution of debris on timescales up to 4 years. The vast amount of debris pushed into ocean likely represents thousands of years worth of ‘normal’ litter flux from Japan’s urbanized coastline. This is important since a significant fraction of the debris will be comprised of plastics, some of which will degrade into tiny particles and be consumed by marine organisms, thereby allowing adsorbed organic pollutants to enter our food supply in quantities much higher than present. This work was published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin. A pre-publication final draft can be downloaded here.