Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Smartphone App Aims to Track Debris from Deadly Japanese Tsunami

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Smartphone App Aims to Track Debris from Deadly Japanese Tsunami

Article excerpt

Smartphone app helps track tsunami debris


VANCOUVER - With more than a million tonnes of debris from the Japanese tsunami floating toward North American shores and beaches, a new app is encouraging members of the public to become "citizen scientists" and help track the wreckage as it arrives.

Some of that debris, washed out to sea in March 2011 after a magnitude-9.0 earthquake triggered a massive tsunami, has already washed up along the West Coast of Canada and the United States, but the bulk of the wreckage is yet to come.

When it does, researchers at the University of Victoria want anyone who happens upon a piece of the wreckage to pull out their smartphone, snap a photo and record what they see using a new app called Coastbuster.

"It allows any managers, whether it's local government, provincial or state government, to actually begin to plan how they're going to clean it up," says Kate Moran, president of Ocean Networks Canada, a research group based at the university.

Ocean Networks developed the free Coastbuster app, which is currently only available on Android phones, though an iPhone version is in the works.

The app allows users to take a photo of large debris on the coastline, especially items they believe may be from the Japanese tsunami. They can then describe the item, its composition and its size using a short form before sending it back to Ocean Networks.

The information then goes into a database that can be accessed by local governments and the U.S.-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The photos are also posted to a special Flickr feed for the app.

Moran says the information will allow governments to co-ordinate local clean-up efforts, as well as help identify potential invasive species that may have hitched a ride on the debris.

Researchers also hope the data will tell them more about ocean currents.

"These data are important for understanding ocean circulation and current patterns, because these big large things have a certain buoyancy and are sitting in the water column at a certain depth, and you begin to understand how it got here and what path it took," she says.

The tsunami, which left more than 18,000 people dead or missing, washed about five million tons of debris into the ocean. …

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