A bobbing mass of wreckage -- the shattered flotsam washed to sea after a tsunami swept across 180 square miles of land in northern Japan on March 11 -- has begun to sweep in slow motion across the Pacific Ocean toward Alaska.
Simulated on a computer model unveiled at an international conference about ocean garbage, this tangled flotilla will begin washing up on beaches in Southeast and other West Coast zones within three years, according to a pair of Hawaiian scientists.
"The plume will reach the U.S. West Coast, dumping debris on Californian beaches and the beaches of British Columbia, Alaska, and Baja California," predicted the Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Hafner at the International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa in this story about their work.
But that's only the beginning.
By the end of 2014, the leading edge will have penetrated Southcentral waters, delivering a high-tide litter that might include tires, household and personal items, toys, shoes, construction fragments, tattered plastic and vinyl scraps, splintered wood, dockage, ropes, floats and the other tragic jetsam of Japan's worst catastrophe since World War II.
What doesn't wash ashore, sink into the abyss or get swallowed by sea creatures will keep circulating, finally roiling into the perpetual deep ocean gyre of human-generated refuse known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.