Japanese officials estimated last year that the March 11 tsunami washed up to 25 million tons of stuff, from cars to bottle caps, into the ocean. Most of it sank just off the Japanese coast, leaving 1 million to 2 million tons to float across the sea.
Of that, only 1 to 5 percent is expected to wash ashore in Hawaii, Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and possibly California, depending on winds and currents. The rest is likely to swirl into one of the five garbage patches across the Pacific.
If tsunami debris does reach the West Coast, it won't be for at least a year, scientists said. "Are we going to see a massive island of garbage coming our way? That's very unlikely," said Nicholas Mallos, a conservation biologist and marine debris expert with the Ocean Conservancy. "The larger issue is the rest of the trash in the ocean. Debris from the tsunami is a very small part of that."
Pictures of ghostly white coral colonies bleached by elevated sea temperatures have become symbols of the effects of global warming. Now there is a glimmer of hope that at least some corals may be more resilient than previously thought. A study suggests that certain kinds of corals subjected to bleaching adapt to endure higher water temperatures.
Corals rely on symbiotic algae, called zooxanthellae, for their color and to produce nutrients through photosynthesis. Above a tipping point, warm seawater typically upsets this delicate symbiotic balance and corals expel the algae, turning white and eventually dying if high temperatures persist.
Yet corals may be hardier than biologists have thought. During a 2010 bleaching episode, an international team studied three coral reef sites. At one in Indonesia that had not bleached previously, fast-growing branching coral species -- such as acropora -- suffered severe die-offs. But at two sites in Singapore and Malaysia that had bleached in 1998, this pattern was reversed, with normally susceptible acropora colonies appearing healthy while massive slow-growing corals, such as porites, were heavily damaged. The group concluded that "the effects of bleaching will not be as uniform as anticipated" and fast-growing corals such as acropora and pocillopora may be able to survive more frequent rises in water temperature.
A relentless disease that has killed nearly 7 million bats is now in Alabama, a cradle for millions of endangered gray bats. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced Wednesday that lab tests confirmed the presence of white-nose syndrome on bats in the Russell Cave complex in Jackson County. The news dashed the hopes of some wildlife biologists who thought the cold-craving disease would never reach so far south. Six years have passed since the disease, linked to an aggressive fungus called geomyces destructans, was first detected at Howes Cave near Albany, N.Y. In Northeast states, the mortality rate for some species of bats has stood at about 100 percent.