A new animation developed by researchers at the University of Hawaii’s International Pacific Research Center illustrates the likely path of the spreading field of debris caused by retreating waves
from last year’s gigantic tsunami in Japan. The model —
based on satellite data and a network of scientific buoys showing sea surface height, ocean surface winds, and ocean currents — shows that debris swept into the Pacific by the event now likely stretches across an area covering 5,000 kilometers by 2,000 kilometers. Much of the debris was initially pulled by the strong Kuroshio Current, which travels past eastern Japan before shifting east and then into the North Pacific Current. The Japanese government estimates about 5 million tons of debris was pulled into the ocean; about 70 percent sank to the seafloor, with about 1.5 million tons still floating.