We’ve already had the story of the Japanese football and the Harley Davidson motorcycle swept away by the tsunami last March and washed up thousands of miles away on the US coast a year later. But soon, there may thousands of similar discoveries.
Scientists say that a flotilla of 1.5 million tons of debris – equivalent to more than 200 Eiffel Towers in weight – is currently making its way across the Pacific Ocean.
Researchers from the NASA Earth Observatory have used data about currents to model the arrival of the debris, and predict they will hit the US Pacific coast en masse starting from October this year. The barrage is predicted to last around a year.
Last month coast guards sunk an unmanned Japanese fishing boat that had drifted across the ocean after fears that it might collide with other vessels.
But as a large surface object, it was easily moved by the wind and stayed afloat. Most of the objects that will reach the shore will be smaller and lighter, perhaps traveling underneath the surface of the ocean in swirling patterns until they hit the shore.
Last month Dave Baxter found a signed ball on the beach, and managed to make out the name of Misaki Murakami, a Japanese teenager whose house was destroyed in the tsunami. He now plans to fly to Japan to return the find.
Aware of the eerie potential of some of the future discoveries, Washington State officials have moved to say that human remains are highly unlikely to be washed up.
Jan Hafner from the International Pacific Research Center, which created the debris impact model, also reassures people that not all of the flotsam is likely to hit the coast, and not all at the same time.
“Most people probably think there is a huge pile of debris moving across the ocean like a carpet. But it is very sparse, very patchy.”