Smaller tsunami debris expected to drift to Washington's shores

KING TV - Glenn Farley

SEATTLE -- A University of Washington professor expects currents to bring most of the smaller debris from last year's tsunami in Japan to Washington's shore.

This month, a 150-foot long fishing vessel sucked out to sea by tsunami waves was suddenly discovered off the coast of British Columbia. Canada's search and rescue agency reports the ship is now 15 miles closer to shore.

In a news conference called by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Washington School of Oceanography provided the latest thinking on where the tsunami debris is heading. UW professor Parker MacCready says currents are likely to carry most of the smaller, less wind-blown debris to Washington. But the currents will split, sending debris both north up the coast toward Canada and Alaska, and down the coast to California.  His models also show how currents along Washington and the British Columbia shoreline could bring debris into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, possibly as far in as the opening to Puget Sound.

Sen. Cantwell is trying to restore federal funding to deal with the debris that's coming, and better track its path by allowing some scientists access to high resolution military satellite data.

While there are many unconfirmed reports of debris found along the west coast, and reports called in by ships crossing the ocean, the only confirmed debris is the ship off Canada and at least two other ships drifting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. MacCready says larger objects, like the ship are primarily wind driven, while smaller and lower profile debris tends to be driven by much slower currents.

He adds the bulk of that material may take another year to reach the Washington and the rest of the coastline.