Tsunami Debris Exploration Uncovers New Theories, More Questions

Team Finds Debris Not From Japan, Unexpected Clues

 UPDATED 8:28 AM HST Jan 19, 2012
HONOLULU -

"I'm kinda still in shock," said Stacy Horner over the phone.   On a cloudy Sunday morning on the northern coast of Molokai, Horner says he saw debris on a beach that was not there the day before.

He also saw the Japanese writing on a basket and couldn?t help but think:

"My wife and I both thought the debris would end up here on the north shore," he said.   "This is what's called plastic sand or micro-plastic," said University of Hawaii senior researcher Nikolai Maximenko, pointing to a pile of bits of colorful plastic.

On Wednesday, he was analyzing more debris just picked up by their two-man team that returned from a month-long expedition from Honolulu to Midway Islands.

Their mission was to find evidence that Japan's tsunami debris had arrived.   "We provided 11 buoys that will be tracked by satellite and 400 wooden markers," he said.   But, Maximenko believes none of the debris collected by their team is from Japan's disaster, but instead from that massive garbage patch floating in the Pacific Ocean.    "They're used in Canada and the west Coast for hag fish traps," he said pointing to a worn, small black plastic basket.

It's old plastic, combined with new revelations and some real surprises.

For one, the debris from Japan's disaster stopped, after advancing toward Midway for six months.   "It stopped. It stopped, because of a temperature front on the southern edge of the debris," said Maximenko.

They also found what they believe is the light debris from Japan's disaster, on the U.S. West Coast.

He believes it was carried over by wind, not ocean currents.

But maybe the biggest mystery is the tsunami debris found in Japan on the opposite side of the country.

"These trays are used everywhere," he said pointing to one of Horner?s pictures of a yellow basket with Japanese writing on it.

He believes the debris in Horner?s pictures are old plastic and debris, too, and not from Japan.

Not that he said, he wants Horner to stop watching closely.

"We're lucky. We're lucky that we still do not have Japan debris on the Hawaiian islands. This might change any time," said Maximenko.   "What do you think now?" KITV4 Reporter Lara Yamada asked Horner over the phone. "That there's more coming!"   Maximenko said they're hoping to do another, bigger exploration to the Midway Islands sometime this summer.

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