Flotsam from Japanese tsunami reaches West Coast

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Associated Press

Posted on December 15, 2011 at 1:04 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 15 at 2:32 PM

PORT ANGELES, Wash. (AP) — Some debris from the March tsunami in Japan has reached the West Coast.

A black float about the size of a 55-gallon drum was found two weeks ago by a crew cleaning a beach a few miles east of Neah Bay at the northwest tip of Washington, the Peninsula Daily News reported (http://is.gd/9jSz9q) Wednesday.

The float was displayed at a Tuesday night presentation at Peninsula College by Seattle oceanographers Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Jim Ingraham, consultants who produce the "Beachcombers Alert" newsletter.

Tons of debris from Japan will likely begin washing ashore in about a year, from California to southern Alaska, they said. Items that wash up may include portions of houses, boats, ships, furniture, portions of cars and just about anything else that floats, he said.

That could include parts of human bodies, Ebbesmeyer said. Athletic shoes act as floats.

Flotsam in a current travels an average of 7 mph, but it can move as much as 20 mph if it has a large area exposed to the wind, Ebbesmeyer said. The latest float sits well atop the water, has a shallow draft and is lightweight. Similar floats have been found on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

Models show currents could pull some Japanese tsunami debris into the Strait of Juan de Fuca as far as Port Townsend.

"All debris should be treated with a great reverence and respect," Ebbesmeyer said.

If the debris has any kind of identifiable marking, such as numbers or Japanese writing, it may be traceable, Ebbesmeyer said. Families in Japan are waiting to hear of any items that may have been associated with their loved ones.

Ebbesmeyer is retired from a career that included tracking icebergs, the 1989 Exxon Valdes oil spill and Puget Sound currents that affect sewage outflows. He wrote the 2009 book, "Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How a Man's Obsession with runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science."

Ingram has retired from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he created computer models of ocean currents.

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Information from: Peninsula Daily News, http://www.peninsuladailynews.com

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