The tsunami that slammed into Japan in March 2011 ripped this dock from its rightful home in Misawa and took it on a 15-month voyage to Agate Beach, Oregon, where it arrive this week. A metal plaque with Japanese writing helped confirm its origin. The dock isn’t radioactive, though it may have borne a different danger: invasive species.
Last year’s tsunami caused massive devastation in Japan from the coast to up to three miles inland. And as the water receded, it dragged 5 million tons of debris with it into the ocean. Most of the wreckage sank near the coast of Japan, but some 1.5 million tons drifted out to sea under the influence of winds and currents, initially forming a debris field detectable by satellites and then dispersing. Most of the wreckage is still at sea, but items ranging from an empty ship to a Harley-Davidson have been washed up on Pacific Northwest shores since this past winter.
The Fukushima Daiichi power plant in 1975, seen from above.
As of this weekend, when Tomari Nuclear Power Plant was shutdown for maintenance, every last one of Japan’s 54 nuclear plants have Japan has been taken offline. Although the shutdowns are supposed to be temporary, after the power utilities’ mismanagement of the Fukushima disaster last year, the Japanese public has registered increasing distrust for official reassurances that nuclear power can be safe. These shutdowns could conceivably become permanent.
The world’s major economies all use nuclear power to some extent, and Japan, which got about 30% of its power from reactors, was one of the heavier users before the the Fukushima meltdown. Now, public opinion there and the world over has soured toward nuclear power, to the extent that Germany has officially announced plans to abandon nuclear completely by 2022.
Strawberry tongue, a symptom of Kawasaki disease.
Scientists don’t know much about the cause of Kawasaki disease—a disease of blood vessel inflammation most commonly found in Japan—but they do know one thing: Japanese outbreaks are highly correlated with winds from central Asia. When those same winds blow thousands of miles across the Pacific to Hawaii and California, Kawasaki disease ends up there too.
The disease affects generally children under the age of five. Blood vessels through the body become inflamed, leading to rashes, a characteristic “strawberry tongue,” and death in some untreated cases. Japanese pediatrician Tomisaku Kawasaki described the first case in 1960, and incidence of the mysterious disease have been rising ever since.
In the latest issue of Nature, Jennifer Fraser profiles scientists who are looking to the wind for answers about Kawasaki disease. There are a couple examples of windspread fungal spores, just as Aspergillus sydowii that follows dust storms from Africa to the Caribbean, but conditions up high are so extreme that wind had not been seriously considered capable of spreading disease across the Pacific:
How do you do to measure radiation levels in the hard-to-reach forests near Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant? Why, fit wild monkeys with radiation sensors, of course! Researcher Takayuki Takahashi tells CNN that his team plans to fit three monkeys in early 2012 with collars that measure radiation, as well as GPS units that record location and distance from the ground. The researchers plan to leave the monitors in place for about a month, before detaching them via remote control and picking up them up to retrieve their stored data.
Satellite radar data showed two wave fronts combining into a doubly tall tsunami off the coast of Japan on March 11.
The tsunami that spawned by the 9.0 earthquake off Japan this March was a disaster of massive proportions, reaching heights of over 130 feet in some areas and traveling up to six miles inland in others. Scientists at NASA and Ohio State University have now found another factor, beyond the sheer strength of the quake, that made the tsunami so ferocious: It started out as two separate walls of waves that combined to form one taller, more powerful “merging tsunami.”
The wave that washed over the eastern coast of Japan was more than 130 feet high.
You would expect that a disaster of the magnitude of the Tohoku tsunami and earthquake, which killed 15,000 people and caused about $210 billion in property damage, would have people feeling more apt to evacuate when another killer wave approaches. But, strikingly, scientists who interviewed Japanese people a year before the event and afterwards found that the size of the waves they would think dangerous enough to flee had grown. As Adam Mann writes at Wired, people had stopped recognizing the height at which a wave becomes dangerous:
The nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant this spring may have released twice as much radiation into the atmosphere as the Japanese government estimated, a new preliminary study says. While the government estimates relied mostly on data from monitoring stations in Japan, the European research team behind the new report looked at radioactivity data from stations scattered across the globe. This wider approach factored in the large amounts of radioactivity that were carried out over the Pacific Ocean, which the official tallies didn’t.
What’s the News: The tsunami that deluged Japan in March was so strong that it broke off several large icebergs in Antarctica, 8,000 miles away, researchers report in a new paper [pdf]. Using satellite images, the researchers saw the tsunami causing new icebergs to split off—or calve—from an ice shelf, the first time such an event has been observed.
The anti-whaling movement hit its peak in 1986, when the International Whaling Commission banned all commercial whaling. Despite the ruling, however, the privately funded Institute of Cetacean Research in Japan has continued whaling by exploiting a loophole in the moratorium that allows some whaling for research purposes. But now, in a report by the government-run Fisheries Agency of Japan, the country has publicly considered ending its whaling efforts in the Antarctic Ocean (aka Southern Ocean), according to Yomiuri Shimbun, one of Japan’s five national newspapers.
What’s the News: Researchers have found high concentrations of rare earth metals, essential materials for making nearly all high-tech electronics, in mud on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, according to study published online earlier this week in Nature Geoscience. These huge deposits could help satisfy ever-increasing demand for rare earth metals, but there are major questions about the economic viability and ecological effects of mining the seabed.