Japanese Tsunami Debris

The status of tsunami debris in Alaska.

While the devastation of the Japanese tsunami touched many of our hearts, echoes of it are now washing up along our shores. The bulk of the debris is subject to currents and isn’t expected to arrive until 2013, but the lightest debris has been reported along the west coast of US and Canada. Report your own debris sightings and pictures on Facebook or marinedebris@ak.net.

OSCURS tsunami debris simulation shows the current-driven debris arriving in 2013. This debris is expected to travel roughly 7 miles per day. Map courtesy NOAA and Dr James Churnside.

Recent Highlights

Results of the AMSF Japanese Tsunami Debris Monitoring Program

Survey Sites


Frequently Asked Questions

How can I get involved?


Support survey efforts with your own beach survey. Report your findings on Facebook at “SeaAlliance – Restoring Our Shores (marine debris)” The survey results will be shared with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). If you want to set up a regular survey, request a shoreline monitoring guide from MD.monitoring@noaa.gov.

Japanese-Tsunami-Debris-Monitoring-8.5x14Help us spread the word by posting the “Japanese Tsunami Debris Monitoring Program” poster around coastal Alaskan communities.

Should we be worried about radiation?

While concerns of radiation have caught the public interest, this is “highly unlikely” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “by the time the (Fukushima) radioactive water leak developed, the debris was already in the ocean, miles away from the reactor, and moving farther offshore by currents and wind.”

Where will the debris wash ashore in North America?

Most of the tsunami debris making landfall along the shores of North America will do so along the coast of Alaska.

  • At least 50% of the tsunami debris that comes ashore (30 to 375 million lbs) will land in Alaska.
  • The heaviest concentrations of debris are expected to be from Yakutat to Gore Point, in the Gulf of Alaska; but Southeast and other areas will see a considerable amount.
  • The majority of the debris is expected to land within four years of the tsunami (March 2011) but Alaska may receive additional debris as it is released from ocean gyres.

Gulf of bc

A map of the Gulf of Alaska, BC, Washington and Oregon. An example of debris concentrations (derived from satellite-tracked ‘drifters’) show Alaska is an immense accumulation point. (Figure adapted from Lumpkin et al. (2012))

(Washington Sea Grant, Debris Accumulation Scenarios in Washington State from the March 2011 Tohoku Tsunami, authored by Ian Miller and Jim Brennan)


What is MCAF doing to track it?

Through the winter of 2012, AMSF is working with partners in Craig, Sitka, Yakutat and Kodiak to conduct beach surveys of the incoming debris. We’re also working with NOAA to provide them with reports and distribute the reports they receive. All these reports are available on Facebook at SeaAlliance – Restoring Our Shores.

Who’s going to clean it up?

“Although we’re planning cleanups for next summer,” remarked Dave Gaudet, Director “ if a massive onslaught of tsunami debris hits, it will overwhelm our current resources.”

Early news reports said the debris would arrive in 2013, why is it showing up now?

The debris is expected to arrive in two waves, the first is the light wind-driven objects reported in late 2011, the second wave is the heavier debris pushed by currents, which according to models will arrive in 2013. While debris of Japanese origin is commonly found on Alaska beaches, the debris reported in late 2011 (floats, large empty containers and other light debris) is consistent with expectations that it may be from the tsunami. This wind-driven debris is estimated to travel as quickly as 20 miles per day, much faster than the seven miles per day of those items subject only to movement by the current, which should arrive in 2013.

Wind Driven Debris

Late 2011 or early 2012.


Buoys and other wind driven debris are expected to travel roughly 20 miles per day, much faster than the current driven debris. The map above shows a 2006 buoy that was tracked in its eight month journey across the pacific. If the Japanese tsunami debris travels at the same rate, it would be expected to arrive in Washington in Nov/Dec 2012.

Map courtesy of Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Jim Ingraham (DriftBusters Co) previously published in the Beachcombers’ Alert newsletter.

Current Driven Debris



OSCURS tsunami debris simulation shows the current driven debris arriving in 2013. This debris is expected to travel roughly 7 miles per day. Map courtesy NOAA and Dr James Churnside.

More Information


News Reports

Press Release