Thursday, July 22, 2010

There's Other Kinds of Petroleum in the Ocean Too

In addition to the oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and China, there is lots of other petroleum floating around the oceans in the form of plastics. The "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" has made the news but there's lots of stuff floating in the Atlantic as well.

The Sea Education Association (SEA) just concluded a research expedition examining the accumulation of plastic debris in the Atlantic Ocean. With no advocates for the open ocean, SEA hopes that this excursion will raise awareness of the pollution problem.
The expedition sailed 1000 nautical miles east from Bermuda in an attempt to find the eastern end of the concentration of debris. As the map below indicates no edge was found. The ship took readings every 30 nautical miles along a jagged course through an area of converging currents .

The map could certainly be improved. Purple is a lousy choice for the top category-or is that green dot the top category? While there is no obvious pattern here, it is clear that the problem is widespread and comes from all of us. SEA is hoping we all re-evaluate our behaviors to help stop the problem from getting out of hand. The July 13th daily update eloquently states the problem and potential mitigation measures we can all take.

This map of the Pacific from NOAA shows how currents can take garbage from all over the planet and push them into these convergence zones. Note that this map is an oversimplification of ocean currents, as is the term "garbage patch"-see the link for details.

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