Scientists find 'great Pacific Ocean garbage patch'

Aug 27, 2009
SEAPLEX researchers spotted a large net tangled with plastic in the "garbage patch." Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Scientists have just completed an unprecedented journey into the vast and little-explored "Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch."

On the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX), researchers got the first detailed view of plastic debris floating in a remote region.

It wasn't a pretty sight.

The Scripps research vessel (R/V) New Horizon left its San Diego homeport on August 2, 2009, for the North Gyre, located some 1,000 miles off California's coast, and returned on August 21, 2009.

Scientists surveyed plastic distribution and abundance, taking samples for analysis in the lab and assessing the impacts of debris on marine life.

Before this research, little was known about the size of the "garbage patch" and the threats it poses to marine life and the gyre's biological .

The expedition was led by a team of Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) graduate students, with support from University of California Ship Funds, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Project Kaisei.

"SEAPLEX was an important education experience for the graduate students, and contributed to a better understanding of an important problem in the oceans," said Linda Goad, program director in NSF's Division of Ocean Sciences. "We hope that SEAPLEX will result in increased awareness of a growing issue."

After transiting for six days aboard the research vessel, the researchers reached their first intensive sampling site on August 9th.

Team members began 24-hour sampling periods using a variety of tow nets to collect debris at several ocean depths.

"We targeted the highest plastic-containing areas so we could begin to understand the scope of the problem," said Miriam Goldstein of SIO, chief scientist of the expedition. "We also studied everything from phytoplankton to zooplankton to small midwater fish."

The scientists found that at numerous areas in the gyre, flecks of plastic were abundant and easily spotted against the deep blue seawater.

Among the assortment of items retrieved were plastic bottles with a variety of biological inhabitants. The scientists also collected jellyfish called by-the-wind sailors (Velella velella).

On August 11th, the researchers encountered a large net entwined with plastic and various marine organisms; they also recovered several plastic bottles covered with ocean animals, including large barnacles.

The next day, Pete Davison, an SIO graduate student studying mid-water fish, collected several species in the gyre, including the pearleye (Benthalbella dentata), a predatory fish with eyes that look upward so it can see prey swimming above, and lanternfish (Tarletonbeania crenularis), which migrate from as deep as 700 meters down to the ocean surface each day.

By the end of the expedition, the researchers were intrigued by the gyre, but had seen their fill of its trash.

"Finding so much plastic there was shocking," said Goldstein. "How could there be this much floating in a random patch of ocean--a thousand miles from land?"

Source: National Science Foundation (news : web)

Explore further: Images released of shipwreck in San Francisco Bay

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User comments : 29

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Mr_Man
1.7 / 5 (11) Aug 27, 2009
Are they going to make a Peanuts movie out of this?
albert
2.9 / 5 (7) Aug 27, 2009
This is a very weak, poor and scanty article regarding an enormous "garbage dump" at least the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean...100 million tons of trash is the estimate. Search this term for more articles and get more in-depth information because the problem is horrid. Why are we still using plastic bottles for drinking water?
Sean_W
2.4 / 5 (9) Aug 28, 2009
If the stuff is as concentrated as the photos I keep seeing suggest, why doesn't someone scoop the stuff up and incinerate it for energy or even just to get rid of it?

Sean_W
2 / 5 (8) Aug 28, 2009
The barnacles might get upset if we deprive them of their homes on floating plastic bottles.
probes
1 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2009
I agree with Darren - get Raymond Chandler to sort it out.
COOLTYCHO
1.7 / 5 (6) Aug 28, 2009
i'm unconvinced
this giant floating ball of shit in the ocean story is on the same conspiracy level as a plot to kill jfk, i've been waiting for pictures but a picture of some crap with someother crap thats plastic, and floating in the ocean ain't gonna cut it for me.
Mayday
1 / 5 (3) Aug 28, 2009
It seems like it would be pretty easy to take a photograph of something the size of Texas. A shot from the air with a tiny frieghter slogging through should be easy. And very dramatic. Where is the photo evidence of this thing? A clot of detritis that could be hauled off by a bass boat is not very convincing.

And the article makes it appear that the refuse has become a habitat teaming with life. It sounds like the sea has assumed ownership and is relatively happy with it's new living spaces(excuse the anthro-analogy, it's early.)

Maybe we should throw all our junk out there. The sea is putting it to good use. It just goes to waste in landfills.
jimmie
2.5 / 5 (2) Aug 28, 2009
How about giving it a better name...The Monsanto Sea
jr
Velanarris
3 / 5 (2) Aug 28, 2009
Before this research, little was known about the size of the "garbage patch" and the threats it poses to marine life and the gyre's biological environment.

What about all those articles that explicitly stated the exact size of the patch, likening it to Texas. More propaganda I guess. At least these guys are planning to do something about it rather than talking in circles.
Egnite
3.5 / 5 (2) Aug 28, 2009
The first I read of this int he news was in March 08 and they reported it was twice the size of the US, not just the size of a state.

http://www.natura...802.html

There are prolly few photos of this because the debris apparently lies feet below surface, broken up to a molecular size which wouldn't be very visable above the surface.
rfw
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 28, 2009
Harvest it like they do kelp trawlers off the pacific coast. Recycle & use it like a natural resource.
Royale
1 / 5 (2) Aug 28, 2009
Although they may lie below the water; (I really don't know one way or the other) they're certainly not molecularly sized. (i.e. broken down). If plastic broke down that easily, then all these environmentalists wouldn't be crying out.
Velanarris
3 / 5 (4) Aug 28, 2009
Although they may lie below the water; (I really don't know one way or the other) they're certainly not molecularly sized. (i.e. broken down). If plastic broke down that easily, then all these environmentalists wouldn't be crying out.








When some plastics are exposed to UV, they break down to molecular levels. One way to make plastics are to excite polymer molecules and cool them creating whatever form you want. Adding energy from UV and other sources would serve to turn them into goo in the ocean.

And brian if you disagree, post why. I'm guessing you gave me a 1 because you think they shouldn't clean it up.
Royale
1 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2009
Is that the case when they're exposed to UV but surrounded by temperate waters such as the sea? Don't forget how great a heat sink water can be. Wouldn't you need UV heat? I mean, I could be way off here, but it seems to me that the majority of the plastic should be intact, regardless of the depth.
Sepp
2 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2009
We should figure out a way to glue or fuse those bottles and other pieces of plastic together into an ever expanding, floating island. The barnacles and fish will love it.

New island real estate - perhaps even a new nation - in the middle of the ocean, anyone?
bcal
1 / 5 (3) Aug 28, 2009
No estimate of size, volume, weight, density, type of debris. From the description, they found a net and "several" plastic bottles.....if there was more, they probably would have noted...so my guess is they didn't find much. Much ado about nothing.
Velanarris
3.8 / 5 (5) Aug 28, 2009
Is that the case when they're exposed to UV but surrounded by temperate waters such as the sea? Don't forget how great a heat sink water can be. Wouldn't you need UV heat? I mean, I could be way off here, but it seems to me that the majority of the plastic should be intact, regardless of the depth.




You're confusing energies.



UV is energy at a certain wavelength, heat is energy at a different wavelength. When UV hits the water if the water can absorb the energy it is transformed into heat energy. That being said, UV penetrates water FAR deeper than visible light, making the plastics floation level kind of a moot point at the depths we're concerned with. Now plastics are an assortment of molecules that "lock" into each other. If you excite them enough they break the lock and melt. When the UV energy strikes the plastic, the energy is potent enough to energize the molecules to the point where they no longer lock into the adjoining plastic molecules due to the absorption spectra of some plastics.

Think sunlight striking ice and melting it into water.

Royale
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 28, 2009
Ok let's go along with what you say. (It seems you're stating that UV and heat have nothing to do with each other. UV is a small portion of the spectrum, but heat=energy. Visible light, Microwave, Radio Wave (UHF/VHF), X-ray, InfraRed all create heat, and are all seperate portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.) But I digress. Let's assume everything you say is accurate. That still affects ONLY some plastics, as you stated. Since leaving my poland spring bottle out in the sun doesnt vaporize it, i think it's safe to say that the more common plastics are not torn apart by UV radiation. I'm not arguing on whether there is a giant garbage pile out there or not. I'm simply stating that MOST if not ALL plastics don't vaporize when left out in the sun. Whether they're in sea water or not.
Velanarris
4 / 5 (4) Aug 28, 2009
And I'm not saying that this is something that happens in minutes or even days either. It takes a good amount of time for this to happen however, we all know what the free radicals in plastics produce when they decompose and that the majority of this junk has probably been out there for years.

And I'm also not saying that UV and heat have little to do with each other, but UV and heat are on different frequencies, and that makes a good amount of difference when you're talking about energetic breakdown of materials.
Royale
1.3 / 5 (3) Aug 28, 2009
Last I heard plastics break down somewhere in the order of many thousands of years. Do you know of any that do so in decades? I'm actually curious about this since plastics were developed decades ago, perhaps the original ones did break down in a shorter period of time.
Velanarris
3.8 / 5 (5) Aug 28, 2009
That's true for landfills but not necessarily so for open air exposure.

A kid developed a method to decompose plastic bags in 3 months. You can imagine what nature does to plastics in an area as unforgiving as the open ocean.

http://www.wired....omposes/

The key to his method is microbial life, very abundant in the open ocean. Couple that with energy sources, UV breakdown, etc.

Remember, the majority of plastic waste is thin wrappings, plastic bags, plastic sheeting. Not really hard plastics like say the dashboard of a car.

But like I said, it doesn't take a water bottle and turn it into goo in a few days. It takes thousands of water bottles and they leech garbage into the water column.

http://www.eureka...0309.php
Royale
4 / 5 (3) Aug 28, 2009
Ok that clarification was good. I wasn't actually considering the thin plastics, I was picturing larger containers and whatnot, but that brings up a good point. That stuff probably is goo now, which I'd venture to say is much worse for marine life than water bottles.
grahf
5 / 5 (3) Aug 28, 2009
Eventually, they decay to water and CO2. The only reason plastics are really dangerous to wildlife is for physical reasons, getting caught up, or eating the indigestible material. As it decays into oils it will eventually turn into something that something can eat, and digest (or be exposed to more UV). Eventually, by whatever means, it all winds up oxidized into the simplest and most stable compounds possible.
thewhitebear
4 / 5 (4) Aug 29, 2009
grahf, it's more than just the physical reasons... apparently plastics degrade into a variety of carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting compounds when exposed to an ocean environment. Physorg had a story just a few days ago! Why we still manufacture objects that are designed to be thrown away out of a substance that is both harmful and long-lived in the environment is beyond me. We have plant based plastics that I can put in my home compost pile! The intelligent and ethical course is increasingly clear to us, yet we refuse to take action.

http://www.physor...772.html
Velanarris
3 / 5 (2) Aug 30, 2009
We have plant based plastics that I can put in my home compost pile! The intelligent and ethical course is increasingly clear to us, yet we refuse to take action.
But you can't use them for medical reasons. The percentage of plastics in the ocean that are related to medical use is probably very high.
Noodle_Naut
1 / 5 (5) Aug 30, 2009
One organism's trash is another organism's treasure. Why do we have to inflict our values on other organisms? Leave it alone, it is their home now; it may not be pretty to us but it is another environment amidst a monotonous ocean some group of animals will find it of value; a means to survive and thrive. I say "natural" is what nature claims not something's origin.
Caliban
3 / 5 (2) Aug 30, 2009
One organism's trash is another organism's treasure. Why do we have to inflict our values on other organisms? Leave it alone, it is their home now; it may not be pretty to us but it is another environment amidst a monotonous ocean some group of animals will find it of value; a means to survive and thrive. I say "natural" is what nature claims not something's origin.



That's brilliant!
So, if everyone in your neighborhood decided to dump their sewage and garbage(for instance) in your back yard, you would just "leave it alone" because some organisms found it amenable to their lifestyle? Natural is what Nature claims, not something's origin?
typicalguy
3 / 5 (2) Aug 30, 2009
If this trash pile is that big then lets see it on google earth.
Royale
not rated yet Aug 31, 2009
I bet countries are PISSED!! Now that we can double check things with Google Earth, you don't need to be a space power to have eyes in the sky.. I love it.. they, on the other hand, are not huge fans..

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