Thursday, September 26, 2013

NOAA Updates Debris Model; Addressing an Environmental Disaster in Slow Motion

As of September 23, NOAA has updated their GNOME debris model to include the latest calculations of the debris field across the Pacific- this is the first  update for fall, and shows a field that stretches all the way from the northern tip of Alaska to the south point of Mexico in the Eastern Pacific.  The nucleus of debris slowly inching towards the West Coast of North America, and will likely continue to do so.
NOAA's newest model of the debris field.  Click on the image for the original, larger version. [Credit: NOAA]
So what does this mean?  It means that tsunami debris will be washing up unpredictably, significantly, and reliably for years to come. Due to ocean circulation, some debris may be trapped in ocean gyres for years before it breaks free and washes up on coastlines.  Some may even drift back to Japan and Asian coasts.

This presents a major problem for states and governments who are struggling to clean up debris- money allotted now may be well exhausted before swaths of debris wash up unexpectedly in future years due to storms and other events.  The environmental impacts of debris will likely last for decades, as there is no easy way to clean up debris, especially in international waters where governments are hesitant to expend their own resources and money.

The impacts on animals and invasive species are likely to be numerous.  There have been two instances of live vertebrate animals washing ashore in debris- one fish, and a live bird that washed ashore in a blue fish bin in Hawaii this March. This is in addition to the scores of live invertebrates- sea stars, barnacles, mussels, algae (seaweed), snails, clams, crabs, and a number of other species that have been identified as invasive.

This highlights the need for continued funding for cleanups (which is fortunately happening in many states), volunteer efforts, and monitoring the problem.  The ultimate impact of these events will cost in the billions of dollars over a long period of time.

SOLVE Beach and Riverside Cleanup
As a last note, if you want to get out and make a difference in Oregon this weekend, SOLVE is still accepting volunteers for its annual cleanup of the Oregon coastline.  This project covers sites along the entire coast, and with three hours of your time, you can make a major difference in beach debris- especially after last week's ocean storm!

What to do:  Visit the SOLVE Beach and Riverside Cleanup Website, choose a site near you, and show up in weather-appropriate attire at the time listed on the website.  Gloves and bags are provided!

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