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The Nation

April 1, 2011

Japan's tsunami debris to hit West Coast

(Continued)

SEATTLE —

Ingraham developed the program to figure out the effects of ocean currents on salmon migration, but the two also have been using it plot the path of a multitude of floating junk.

Ebbesmeyer first became interested in flotsam when he heard reports of beachcombers finding hundreds of water-soaked shoes in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. An Asia cargo ship bound for the U.S. in 1990 had spilled thousands of Nike shoes into the middle of the North Pacific Ocean. He was able to trace serial numbers on shoes to the cargo ship, giving him the points where they began drifting in the ocean and where they landed.

The oceanographer also has tracked plastic bath toys — frogs, turtle, ducks and beavers — that fell overboard a cargo ship in 1992 in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and were later found in Sitka, Alaska.

Ebbesmeyer relies heavily on a network of thousands of beachcombers such as Anderson to report the location and details of their finds.

Anderson says he constantly scans the beaches watching for something that catches his eye. He's found about 20 bottled messages, mostly from schoolchildren, and the several hundred Nike sneakers, which he cleaned up by soaking in water and eventually gave away, sold or swapped.

"In two years, there's going to be stuff coming in (from Japan), and probably lots of it," he said. "Some of it is bound to come in."

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