Southern California environment news and trends

California to receive federal grant for tsunami cleanup

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University of Hawaii/NOAA

Millions of tons of debris from the tsunami in Japan are washing toward the western U.S.

California will be among five states to divide $250,000 in federal grants to help clean up incoming debris from last year’s devastating tsunami in Japan.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced this week that California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Alaska will receive as much as $50,000 each towards tsunami debris removal, with funds available as early as the end of this month.

"We continue to actively work with the states and other Federal agencies to address the challenges associated with tsunami debris," said Nancy Wallace, director of NOAA's marine debris program in a statement. "We are pleased to be able to contribute funds to support states' efforts to respond to and remove marine debris, including disposal fees, cleanup supplies, and dumpster rentals. We remain dedicated to continuing our work with the states and others to address contingency planning, monitoring and research."


‘Star Wars’ characters sell Toyota’s plug-in Prius in Japan

Things seem to be looking up for electric and hybrid vehicles in America. The much-discussed Chevy Volt just recorded its second-best sales month yet, even besting the plug-in Toyota Prius and Nissan’s all-electric Leaf in U.S. numbers during May of this year.

Still, it’s the Prius that rules the overall roost, with the car becoming the third best-selling vehicle in the world over the first quarter of 2012, as reported by Bloomberg News.

Looking to boost sales of the new Prius plug-in hybrid in Japan, Toyota has recruited a couple of ringers for their latest TV commercial: "Star Wars" droids R2-D2 and C-3PO.

A translation of the new spot (which can be found on Green Car Reports) finds the droids getting a charge from the same plug that juices up the Prius while the announcer delivers the facts, like the car’s total EPA range being 540 miles, with overall efficiency of 50 mpg, and as much as 95 MPGe over the first 11 miles.


Radioactive tuna from Japan reach California

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AFP/Getty Images

Bluefin tuna.

With plastic and debris from last year’s tsunami in Japan already causing trouble on American shores, there’s a new cause of domestic concern from that devastating event. Researchers have found “low levels” of radiation in bluefin tuna along the California coast, raising fears that the fish brought the radiation — the result of the tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant — across the Pacific Ocean quicker than water or even wind.

As reported by Reuters, small amounts of cesium-137 and cesium-134 were found in 15 tuna caught in the vicinity of San Diego last August, four months after the disaster in Japan and far outpacing ocean and air debris.

Researchers conducting the study claim that while the tuna were measured to contain five times the amount of cesium-137 than normal, the radiation is not enough to harm people if eaten, and are “far less” than general Japanese safety levels.


California and USC engineers team up to study potential tsunami scenarios

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Kim White/Getty Images

A woman watches as tsunami surges hit the coast on March 11, 2011 in Half Moon Bay, California.

As the world pauses to remember the devastating earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan last year, California is taking precautions to brace the coast in case something similar happens here.

According to R&D, engineers from USC and the state of California will use hydrodynamic computer modeling and past tsunami data to study how the state’s coast is affected when they occur. One of the primary goals of the study is to create new coastal flooding maps and potential escape routes.

As reported by Patch, last year’s tsunami in Japan caused considerable damage along California’s coast, and created swirling currents in Santa Barbara and Marina del Rey that according to the San Francisco Chronicle, could have been much worse had the tsunami hit at high tide.

"California is being proactive in its effort to re-evaluate certain elements of its tsunami preparedness based on lessons learned from the Japan event," said Jose Borrero, the Adjunct Research Professor of the USC Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and one of the study’s primary conductors. "During the Japan tsunami, even though we knew how big the waves were going to be, we severely underestimated the strength and duration of the currents."


Japanese tsunami debris expected to reach California shores

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University of Hawaii/NOAA

Millions of tons of debris from the tsunami in Japan are washing toward the western U.S. and could make landfall in spring, 2013.

The catastrophic 9.0 tsunami that rocked the coast of Japan last March was more than just devastating. Destroying whole villages and reducing the Miyagi Prefecture down to little more than a pile of rubble, it also swept everything in its path – buildings, cars, boats, furniture and more – out to sea. All of which is heading directly for the shores of the western United States, including Hawaii, Washington and of course, California.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency’s Marine Debris Program, all of that stuff (pretty much anything that floats) started showing up last September when fishing buoys from the disaster washed up here in California. The floating detritus, once moving in huge debris fields, has broken down into millions of smaller pieces headed right in our direction.