Thursday, April 15, 2010

A New Oceanic Garbage Patch

A new "Garbage Patch" has been found in the Atlantic Ocean.  Yahoo News reports that the patch is located between Bermuda and Portugal's mid-Atlantic Azores islands.  Unlike many of the great geographic discoveries of the past, this one is not one is not one that nations are anxious to claim.  "The debris is harmful for fish, sea mammals — and at the top of the food chain, potentially humans — even though much of the plastic has broken into such tiny pieces they are nearly invisible."
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (also known a the Pacific Trash Vortex) was predicted back in 1988 by NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration).  Based on finding of high concentrations of marine debris accumulating in regions governed by ocean currents, they hypothesized that similar conditions would occur in other parts of the Pacific.  Unfortunately, they were right.
It was found and reported in 1997, described as the "Eastern Garbage Patch" (EGP).  It was implied that it was large chunks of visible debris, but it primarily consists of particles that are generally invisible to the naked eye.

Although frequently described in the media as "twice the size of the continental United States", it is actually hard to measure.  Little debris is seen from a vessel in the middle of it and it can't be seen from the air.  Actual sizes are best guesses as they are based on the random sampling.  Since the size of the patch is determined by a higher-than-normal degree of concentration of pelagic debris, there is no "bright shining line" between the "normal" and "elevated" levels of pollutants to define the area.  Never the less, the findings are alarming as we produce more indestructible trash each year.
Information on the photodegradation of plastics, the effects on wildlife, and the potential for reduction and cleanup are all at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch on Wikipedia.

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