Science!: Black Holes, Night Vision and Garbage

Lauren Admire | 14 Sep 2009 21:00

Texas-Sized Floating Trash Heap Documented

The rumor of a gigantic heap of trash floating in the middle of the ocean is one we've all likely heard before. Most of the time, this canard is answered with "Pshhh, yeah right" and an exaggerated roll of the eyes. However, now there is photographic proof of this Texas-sized monstrosity, and it's growing ever larger.

Nearly 200 billion pounds of plastic is produced each year, and it's estimated that at least 10 percent ends up in the ocean. 70 percent of it sinks, but the floating bits are harnessed by gyres.

Students and researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography paid a visit to the garbage dump residing in the ocean between California and Hawaii. Sea-garbage accumulates here because of the North Pacific gyre, a slow moving clockwise current. And this isn't the only garbage patch, nor is it the biggest. There's another sizable patch floating off the coast of South America.

Each cruise through the 1700 mile field yielded a bevy of debris, including a stuffed dog that the research crew named Lucky and deemed the unofficial mascot of the trip. The crew performed 100 net trawls and came up with debris every single time, and that's just from surface trawling. It is likely that there is even more debris settled at the bottom of the ocean.

The researchers hope to learn the impact this is having on the surrounding environs. During their research trip, they captured several animal inhabitants of the garbage patch, ranging from fish to crabs to squid. In an area where plastic outweighs plankton six to one, plastic pollution becomes a real hazard. A discovery made earlier this year shows that plastic degrades in the ocean a lot faster than we had originally believed. This isn't a good thing. During decomposition, deadly compounds are given off; including the carcinogenic styrene monomer and Bisphenol A, which is known to mess with reproductive systems.

I just thought of something. If 70 percent of all floating plastic eventually sinks, and the remaining floating bits are the size of Texas: How frickin' big are the ocean-bottom garbage patches?

Source: National Geographic


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