Will Tsunami Debris Reach California?

As much as 25 million tons of debris may be headed toward Southern California, but predicting when it will arrive is difficult

One year after a devastating tsunami hit Japan, scientists are trying to predict if and when a debris field might land along the Southern California coast

Scientists at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. are using computer models to mathematically track the path Japan's tsunami debris should take across the Pacific.

An earthquake and tsunami struck Japan March 11, 2011, killing between 15,000 and 19,000 people.

A year later, researchers are trying to predict the trajectory of the debris that was swept from Japan out into the ocean.

"Can you predict the weather two weeks from now? No. It's like the weather. This is driven by weather," said Menas Kafatos, Dean, Schmid College of Science.

Experts predict winds will push what's been called a giant garbage patch. By now they believe much of what was washed away has sunk.

"I imagine what remains is things that float easily, like plastic bottles, wood, things of that sort," Kafatos said. "It's bad for environment. It's bad for marine life."

"Most of the debris came from cities," Kafatos said. "All these costal areas and villages. That will not be radioactive."

Some of the debris has already been spotted near Hawaii. Scientists expect some tsunami trash to hit Seattle next year and then head south.

NOAA is tracking the debris as best they can and they're asking for help from the public.

If you find anything on the beach that you think may be debris from the tsunami, you can e-mail your report to NOAA. They'd like to see a photo as well.Keep up to date on breaking news: Download our improved iPhone app, follow us on Twitter @nbcsandiego, fan us on Facebook, sign up for our breaking news e-mail alerts or text SDBREAKING to 622339 to receive text messages for local breaking news. (For more info, text HELP. To end, text STOP. Message and data rates may apply.)

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