May 25, 2012 in Region

Ocean expert expects bones in tsunami debris

DNA may identify missing victims
Associated Press
 

PORT ANGELES, Wash. – An oceanographer who tracks flotsam says West Coast beachcombers may find floating athletic shoes with human remains as more debris from last year’s Japanese tsunami finally washes ashore.

“We’re expecting 100 sneakers with bones in them,” Curt Ebbesmeyer told the audience this week at a tsunami symposium.

Anyone who discovers such remains should call 911 and wait for police. DNA may identify people missing since the March 2011 tsunami hit Japan.

“That may be the only remains that a Japanese family is ever going to have of their people that were lost,” Ebbesmeyer said.

“We’re dealing with things that are of extreme sensitivity. Emotional content is just enormous. So be respectful.”

Ebbesmeyer expects the amount of tsunami debris to peak in October, and that could attract a number of Japanese visitors to the Olympic Peninsula, the Peninsula Daily News Wednesday.

The three-day symposium in Port Angeles and Sequim was hosted by the Clallam County Marine Resources Committee in partnership with the Surfrider Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Ebbesmeyer is the co-creator of the Ocean Surface Current Simulator computer model, which predicts the movement of ocean flotsam worldwide using known ocean current patterns along with wind speed and direction information provided by the U.S. Navy.

Ebbesmeyer displayed a series of slides showing computer simulations of debris transport developed by his colleague, oceanographer Jim Ingraham of DriftBusters Inc.

Fast-moving debris from the Japanese tsunami, including oyster farm buoys, soccer balls and a shipping container holding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with Japanese license plates, has already arrived on the shores of North America.

In April, the Coast Guard sank a 164-foot vessel, the Ryou-Un Maru, in the Gulf of Alaska after it was dislodged by the tsunami.

“I’m expecting 100 vessels over the next couple of years,” Ebbesmeyer said.

About 400 Japanese buoys have washed up in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California, he said.

A soccer ball discovered in Alaska was traced to a boy who lives in Northern Japan. A basketball that landed on Prince of Wales Island was traced to a Japanese middle school.

Ebbesmeyer is retired from a career that included tracking icebergs, the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, and Puget Sound currents that affect sewage outflows.

He wrote the 2009 book, “Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How a Man’s Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science.”

Ingraham has retired from NOAA, where he created computer models of ocean currents. The Seattle consultants produce the “Beachcombers Alert” newsletter.

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