The problem is that scientists aren't sure exactly when or where it will hit: The stuff could strike anywhere from California to Washington late next year.
Macabre sightings? Possibly, says the Merc:
Dead bodies in the refuse would decompose and sink, [L.A.-born oceanographer Curtis] Ebbesmeyer said, but there is a possibility of some macabre discoveries, like feet in tennis shoes, which have washed up before on Northwest beaches and have been linked with DNA tests to missing persons who drowned.
The debris field (check out this awesome simulation) was being tracked for a month after the quake and tsunami that rocked northern Japan, but National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reportedly lost track of it after that; it had dispersed into such a wide field that it couldn't be followed using satellites anymore.
Scientists believe that, after hitting our coast, the debris will eventually end up in the North Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling, ever-growing aquatic dump in the middle of the ocean.
The problem for the West Coast is alarming enough that U.S. officials want to warn beach-goers and other coastal hawks. They want us to be prepared for the clean-up.
Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA's regional administrator for California and the West:
We want to educate people on what is happening. We need to be prepared and work out what we can do to prevent it from coming ashore and then clean up as much as we can when it does come ashore.
So starting next year, watch where you surf.
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