CORVALLIS, Ore. (KMTR) -- An Oregon State University oceanographer is sharing his thoughts on the first major piece of tsunami debris to wash up on the Pacific Coast, saying while the debris' arrival is earlier than predicted, it wasn't totally unexpected.
Early Tuesday, June 5, 2012, a floating dock seven feet tall by nineteen feet wide by 66 feet long from Japan washed up on popular Agate Beach a mile north of Newport. Oregon Park Department officials later determined the dock actually came from the fishing port of Misawa, one of four docks from the Aomori Prefecture that were torn loose by the tsunami in March 2011.
The dock is the second one of its kind to be recovered and the first major piece of tsunami debris to arrive in North America.
Based on ocean current data, Oregon State University oceanographers originally thought it would be about two years before Oregon saw any tsunami debris arrive on the coast. The dock made landfall just a little more than a year after the tsunami.
While it is a earlier than predicted, oceanographer Jack Barth said there's a reasonable explanation that isn't too surprising. "You know it is earlier than we predicted just on the currents, but like I said, I kind of expected it would be a big thing, because it has to be blown,” said Professor Barth in an interview with NewsSource 16 on Thursday, June 7, 2012.
Professor Barth said the dock may have washed ashore faster than other debris because of its massive size and the effect of wind on it. Barth said ultimately anything above water will catch the ocean winds and move faster through the water. Seven feet tall and full of styrofoam, the dock is extremely buoyant and was able to stay above the water level.
Barth says there is a lesson to be learned from this discovery. "Keep your eyes open; there will be more stuff in the water coming. Again, we're uncertain as to how much,” sais Barth. “In particular, our fishermen are great - they're going to be our first eyes on this stuff. And what we really lack are at-sea reports, so we really need to know where things are and then we can tune up the models and do a better job [with predictions].”
As for Professor Barth's future work - his last day of class was Thursday, June 7th - he will journey this summer with other researchers out about 100 miles off the coast from Newport to study ocean currents and look for more debris. Barth said with new data could come some recalculation of how fast debris is moving to the west coast of North America.
Scientists from OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center spent Thursday scraping invasive ocean species off of the dock. Estimates about 13 pounds of marine life per square foot were removed. The material collected was buried in the sand above the water line.
OSU scientists say the discovery of so many ocean species that survived the 5,000 mile ocean journey is "mind boggling".