It could still be another year before significant amounts of debris from the Japanese tsunami reach Washington's shores, and likely some of it has already arrived.
On Wednesday, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as Washington's ecologists, and health and emergency management officials met in Ocean Shores to discuss strategies for what to do when debris washes onto Washington's beaches.
The NOAA estimates that 1.5 million tons of tsunami debris is floating in the ocean. Computer models that predict the majority of the debris -- including pieces of cars, houses, trash, clothes, appliances -- could reach Hawaii by winter, and the West Coast sometime in 2013. Using satellite images, scientists say there is no longer a multi-ton, unified debris field floating in the Pacific Ocean, thus making it more difficult to predict when items could make landfall.
Peter Murphy, NOAA's marine debris coordinator for Alaska, says its hard to forecast whether Washington will see just a little debris or tons of it. Click here to see the predicted travel path for most debris.
One major concern is how much debris removal could potentially cost Washington's taxpayers. Jody Kennedy with the Surfrider Foundation said because so much of the state's coastline is remote wilderness, helicopters may be needed to remove some debris.
Environmental impact is also being discussed by state agencies. Oil and fuel could seep into the beach as plastics get broken down into smaller and smaller bits hazardous to wildlife.
If debris is believed to be found, the NOAA set up an email address for beachcombers to notify them. Email DisasterDebris@noaa.gov to report findings.
Washington's Department of Health has said it is unlikely any debris from the disaster will be radioactive. However, they advise that closed containers, such as fuel drums or gas cans, should not be opened.
During a beach cleaning event on the Washington coastline last weekend, volunteers recovered debris pieces such as floats and wood that they said could have been swept away by the tsunami.
However, marine debris from Asia continually washes up on North American shores due to ocean currents. The NOAA has said that not every piece of debris is necessarily from the tsunami that devastated Japan on March 11, 2011.
In addition, not all debris will make the entire trip across the ocean to North America. Some may have sunk along the way or will disperse to the wider parts of the Pacific.
This week, a Japanese teen said a soccer ball that he lost in the tsunami is the same one that was recovered by a man in Alaska.
The largest piece of debris found yet was the 150-foot, rust-covered "ghost ship" eerily floating aimlessly toward Canada last month. The U.S. Coast Guard ultimately sank the ship because of the navigation hazard it posed to other vessels.
- NOAA Japanese tsunami debris info and FAQ
- Washington Department of Ecology tsunami debris blog
- One year later: Japan tsunami aftermath and debris - Nancy Wallace, Director, NOAA Marine Debris Program
- Washington Department of Health tsunami debris FAQ