Currents carrying Japanese tsunami debris to U.S. West Coast

Currents carrying Japanese tsunami debris to U.S. West Coast »Play Video
Professor Jack Barth explains how computer models can predict when and where debris will wash ashore.

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Oceanographers say it's not "if" but "when" debris from the March 2011 tsunami in Japan starts washing up along the Oregon Coast.

"We know when the stuff went into the ocean," said Jack Barth, an Oregon State University profressor, "and we know the ocean currents pretty well, so we can project that in a simulation projection of a cloud of debris to see when it arrives."

Barth said debris has already reached the Hawaiian Islands.

The West Coast can expect to see  wreckage later this year, especially buoyant objects sturdy enough to survive the journey.

"I think it's going to be building materials," Barth predicted of what will wash ashore. "The plastics seem to be able to float and stay around for a long time. It's that kind of stuff that I think will make it over.

But the haunting news about radiation leak from a Japanese nuclear plant have some folks wondering if what ends up washing ashore here will be safe to touch.

"The consenus right now is that radiation is not going to be a problem," Barth said. "This two year journey across the North Pacific, the waves are pounding on the stuff, wind, sea water washing things, and we think that will wash off most of any possible radiation."