Environment

Great Pacific Garbage Patch might be 16 times bigger than we thought

Research vessels collected 1.2 million plastic samples and the aircraft scanned more than 300 sq km (115 sq mi) of ocean as part of a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Research vessels collected 1.2 million plastic samples and the aircraft scanned more than 300 sq km (115 sq mi) of ocean as part of a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
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For better or for worse, science is teaching us more and more about the huge amount of plastic that we're pouring into the ocean
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For better or for worse, science is teaching us more and more about the huge amount of plastic that we're pouring into the ocean
Research vessels collected 1.2 million plastic samples and the aircraft scanned more than 300 sq km (115 sq mi) of ocean as part of a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
2/13
Research vessels collected 1.2 million plastic samples and the aircraft scanned more than 300 sq km (115 sq mi) of ocean as part of a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Plastic samples from a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
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Plastic samples from a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Plastic samples from a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
4/13
Plastic samples from a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Research vessels collected 1.2 million plastic samples and the aircraft scanned more than 300 sq km (115 sq mi) of ocean as part of a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
5/13
Research vessels collected 1.2 million plastic samples and the aircraft scanned more than 300 sq km (115 sq mi) of ocean as part of a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
For better or for worse, science is teaching us more and more about the huge amount of plastic that we're pouring into the ocean
6/13
For better or for worse, science is teaching us more and more about the huge amount of plastic that we're pouring into the ocean
Plastic samples from a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
7/13
Plastic samples from a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Research vessels collected 1.2 million plastic samples and the aircraft scanned more than 300 sq km (115 sq mi) of ocean as part of a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
8/13
Research vessels collected 1.2 million plastic samples and the aircraft scanned more than 300 sq km (115 sq mi) of ocean as part of a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Research vessels collected 1.2 million plastic samples and the aircraft scanned more than 300 sq km (115 sq mi) of ocean as part of a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
9/13
Research vessels collected 1.2 million plastic samples and the aircraft scanned more than 300 sq km (115 sq mi) of ocean as part of a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
For better or for worse, science is teaching us more and more about the huge amount of plastic that we're pouring into the ocean
10/13
For better or for worse, science is teaching us more and more about the huge amount of plastic that we're pouring into the ocean
Plastic samples from a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
11/13
Plastic samples from a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Plastic samples from a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
12/13
Plastic samples from a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Plastic samples from a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
13/13
Plastic samples from a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

As depressing as it may be, science is revealing more and more about the huge amount of plastic we're pouring into the ocean. New research has shown that its most tangible manifestation, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), is a whole lot larger than we thought, with the bigger pieces forming a substantial piece of the pie.

The study was carried out by the Ocean Cleanup Foundation together with six universities from around the world. Led by the young Dutch inventor Boyan Slat, the Ocean Cleanup gang has made it its mission to tackle the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, with plans to deploy huge trash-collecting booms in the area later this year.

But the Foundation says earlier attempts to size up the patch have involved a bit of guesswork, with researchers using mesh nets to collect samples only able to cover a relatively small surface area. Over the past year three years it has taken a more comprehensive approach to surveying the patch, and has now created what it says is a much more complete picture of the problem.

Plastic samples from a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Plastic samples from a new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The team deployed 30 vessels in the patch at the same time, all fitted with surface sampling nets, including a mothership that dragged a pair of six-meter wide devices to collect medium to large-sized plastic pieces. The work of the ships was calibrated with data collected by aircraft equipped with advanced sensors, which flew over the patch gathering multispectral imagery and 3D scans of all the trash.

The vessels collected 1.2 million plastic samples and the aircraft scanned more than 300 sq km (115 sq mi) of ocean. The researchers say that its results indicate the Great Pacific Garbage Patch measures 1.6 million sq km, an area three times the size of continental France.

Within it are 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing 80,000 metric tons, around the same as 500 jumbo jets. Ninety-two percent of this is made up of larger objects, while the remaining eight percent is attributed to microplastics, categorized as pieces less than 5 mm in size. These figures are between four and sixteen times higher than previous estimates.

For better or for worse, science is teaching us more and more about the huge amount of plastic that we're pouring into the ocean
For better or for worse, science is teaching us more and more about the huge amount of plastic that we're pouring into the ocean

"Although it is not possible to draw any firm conclusions on the persistency of plastic pollution in the GPGP yet, this plastic accumulation rate inside the GPGP, which was greater than in the surrounding waters, indicates that the inflow of plastic into the patch continues to exceed the outflow," says Laurent Lebreton, lead author of the study.

The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Source: The Ocean Cleanup

12 comments
carol29
Pumice stones. Shape pumice into random ovular pieces. Make hundreds of thousands of them. Drop them into the middle of the patch. ...and watch nature grind the trash into negligible particulate. Your Welcome, Dave Mowers
aki009
So the conclusion is that there's 50 kg of plastic per square kilometer?? (80,000,000kg/1,600,000sqkm) That's not a garbage patch, unless one ventures to call every corner of the earth one. I would not be surprised to find 50 kg of plastic waste in almost any given square kilometer that's routinely visited by humans. This is a great example of fake scandal journalism, served without an iota of critical thought.
SimonClarke
Two great comments. I'd like to add my twist to this. We know there is an issue. We know it will get worse before it gets better but if we start to do something about it now it will improve. Stop telling us there is a problem, start giving us idea's how we can do things every day to improve our individual impact. millions of people creating a little bit of plastic waste every day will slowly start to have an affect. As will peoples innovative idea's for ways of removing and removing this material, then they can begin processing it. I know for example that you can create Petrol and Diesel from plastic. This will be a great use of waste plastic.
MarcelH
@aki009 Give me your contact details and I shout you free trip to one of the areas and then you can decide for yourself if this is scandal journalism or not. Hiding behind some fake name and commenting here on this site seems to be a very common thing. Same @ carol29 Regards,Marcel Hagener from NZ.
christopher
3 bags of old nets, and half a bucket of odds and ends does not equate to 800,000metric tons. No wonder they shoved "might be" in their results, not even a committed greenie is going to swallow this garbage.
BrianK56
Since we already have micro beads in our drinking water I don't doubt the size of it. We people are not responsible enough to be trusted to recycle plastic water bottles and plastic grocery bags. Take these two away and the problem gets minimal.
Bruce H. Anderson
Recent studies have shown that 90%+ of ocean plastic comes from 10 rivers, 8 of those are in Asia. That might be a better place to focus efforts. Treat the disease, not just the symptoms.
MarcelH
@Christopher,there are heaps of videos online where you can see that there are enormous plastic islands virtually floating in the sea. How you dare to rate this article as "garbage" is sickening me. The discarded nets by the fishing industry are a massive problem. The packaging industry needs to come up with new materials which break down by UV light or similar into non toxic particles. I have been to China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil. I have been on beaches where I was walking only on rubbish for hundreds and hundreds of meters. Plastic,oil filters,etc.... worst was near Kota KInabalu. I do agree with Bruce that the source needs to be stopped which means re-education...which opens a "can of worms"....
Catweazle
I wondered what the next big eco-horror was going to be since AGW has clearly passed its sell-by date. Ocean acidification and a plethora of assorted varieties of influenza and haemorrhagic fevers failed to gain any traction, so now it's man-made plastics that are going to destroy the Planet and 'Civilisation As We Know It™' . And sure enough, as usual "it's worse than we thought!". Jolly good, carry on...
ljaques
Isn't it nice that Gaia is collecting all this stuff together for us so we can clean up our mess? You go, girl!