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Riding on a current.

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The tsunami that struck Japan in 2011 wiped out 16-year-old Misaki Murakami's home and swept all his belongings out to sea, including his prized soccer ball. A year later, the ball washed ashore in Alaska--5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) away.

The ball made its lengthy journey across the Pacific on ocean currents. "An ocean current is like a river in the ocean," says Dimitris Menemenlis, an oceanographer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in California.

Winds, Earth's rotation, and the shape of the ocean floor determine the paths ocean currents take. Using satellite data and computer models, NASA recently created an animation that shows how currents flow around the planet (see illustration, above).

Misaki's ball possibly drifted with the huge circular ocean current called the North Pacific Gyre, says Menemenlis. The Alaskan couple who found the soccer ball and another teen's volleyball, which was also lost in the tsunami, plan to return the balls to their owners.

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Title Annotation:EARTH: OCEANS
Author:Warren, Stephanie
Publication:Science World
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 21, 2012
Words:161
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