Environment

Here's how you size up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch from above

Here's how you size up the Gre...
A prototype of The Ocean Cleanup's trash-catching barriers, as seen from above
A prototype of The Ocean Cleanup's trash-catching barriers, as seen from above
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The team will conduct two slow flyovers of the patch at a speed of 140 knots and an altitude of 400 m (1,312 ft) using a C130 Hercules aircraft
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The team will conduct two slow flyovers of the patch at a speed of 140 knots and an altitude of 400 m (1,312 ft) using a C130 Hercules aircraft
A prototype of The Ocean Cleanup's trash-catching barriers, as seen from above
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A prototype of The Ocean Cleanup's trash-catching barriers, as seen from above
In addition to watchful eyes, an array of sensors fitted to the aircraft will take measurements of the ocean trash
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In addition to watchful eyes, an array of sensors fitted to the aircraft will take measurements of the ocean trash
View gallery - 3 images

If you plan on scooping up a pile of ocean trash twice the size of Texas, it certainly helps if you can lay eyes on it first. The Ocean Cleanup project did just that when it ventured into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch with 30 research vessels in tow one year ago, and now the team is taking its prying eyes to the skies to gain an aerial perspective on the task at hand.

The Ocean Cleanup project is the brainchild of Dutch aerospace engineering student turned entrepreneur Boyan Slat. His idea is to use the ocean's natural currents to usher plastic debris into huge trash-catching barriers, and then onwards to a central collection point. Slat believes that his system could make it possible to cut the time needed to clean up the world's oceans from millennia to mere years.

And things have moved pretty quickly since the concept was first unveiled in 2013. The team has conducted a feasibility study, deployed and then hauled in a prototype of its trash-catching barriers off the coast of the Netherlands and carried out the largest ocean research expedition in history, when in August 2015 it used the fleet of 30 vessels to create the first high-resolution map of the world's largest gathering of oceanic plastic debris.

In addition to watchful eyes, an array of sensors fitted to the aircraft will take measurements of the ocean trash
In addition to watchful eyes, an array of sensors fitted to the aircraft will take measurements of the ocean trash

But the so-called Mega Expedition still left a few gaps. The aim of the upcoming Aerial Expedition is to quantify much larger pieces of trash that couldn't be measured from the ocean surface, where the team used large drag nets to collect plastic trash samples. Where this tactic enabled them to survey a total of 18 sq km (6.95 sq mi), the aerial survey will size up an estimated 6,000 sq km (2,316 sq mi), an area more than 300 times the size.

The team will conduct two slow flyovers of the patch at a speed of 140 knots and an altitude of 400 m (1,312 ft) using a C130 Hercules aircraft. Onboard, four dedicated observers will scan the ocean surface, while two computer operators will log the data. The pilots and navigator will also keep an eye out for plastic debris from the cockpit.

The team will conduct two slow flyovers of the patch at a speed of 140 knots and an altitude of 400 m (1,312 ft) using a C130 Hercules aircraft
The team will conduct two slow flyovers of the patch at a speed of 140 knots and an altitude of 400 m (1,312 ft) using a C130 Hercules aircraft

Further to these watchful eyes, an array of sensors fitted to the aircraft will take measurements of the ocean trash. This includes a device called a SASI hyperspectral SWIR imaging system that uses an infrared camera to pick out ocean plastic, along with a CZMIL system that uses LiDAR to generate 3D images of what are known as ghost nets. These knotted clumps of discarded fishing tackle that can measure meters across are considered the most harmful kind of marine debris and a major hazard for marine life.

With information gathered by the sensors and visual surveys, the team will convert the debris that they spot into a weight estimation of the patch. This will then help inform the design of the final system, how all that trash can be transported back to shore, and which pieces can be recycled.

The Aerial Expedition will kick off on September 26 from Google's Moffett Airfield near Mountain View, California, while the team hopes to install its final system in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 2020.

Source: Ocean Cleanup Project 1, 2

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11 comments
VincentWolf
A worthy endeavor indeed.
toddzrx
I guess more power to him, but he's wasting his time.
The ocean already has a mechanism to "take out the trash", or more literally, dispose of it: microbes literally eat up plastic once it's small enough.
I'm not suggesting we go on littering to our hearts content; I don't and don't like it when others do. But the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is yet another over-blown non-problem.
christopher
Reminds me of the emperors new clothes fable.
How do you get someone to give you a ton of money? Coin an alarmist green-pandering term like "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" and attach it to an invisible reason!
Seriously. You can't see it, no thinking person cares, and it's going to go away all by itself if you leave it alone. Nobody needs to spend money trying to see the invisible.
PhilArmstrong
Greatest amount of bull**** I've read in ages. The lovely picture at the top of the page doesn't show it as it is now, all torn and tattered. Useless piece of public funded junk. Plastic doesn't have an infrared signature as it takes on the temperature of its surroundings when in water. Lousy sciences.
VirtualGathis
@toddzrx: "microbes literally eat up plastic once it's small enough."
That's an interesting theory. I've never seen any actual data on that being a real thing. Most of the research I've seen has proven that microbes except a few extremeness and genetically engineered microbes are incapable of eating it and that certain forms are lethal to most microbes. The research has also showed that microscopic pieces of plastic invade vital systems in larger life and cause a number of disruptions that can be devastating and even fatal to the organism. This is why consumer products with plastic micro-beads have been outlawed recently. They have been discovering the micro-beads are killing fish, mollusks, and even plants in our waterways and oceans.
So do you have a source I could learn more about these plastic eating microbes or is that just "science according to toddzrx"?
Wolf0579
The effects of religious and republican attacks on science and critical thinking skills in public schools is vividly apparent in the majority of comments I'm reading these days. It's also clear we humans have not been trying to breed for increased intelligence. Shame, that.
aksdad
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an overblown environmentalist myth. The "garbage" is mostly microscopic, invisible to the naked eye. It collects in ocean gyres but you can't actually see it. If you were to sail through it you would see nothing but miles and miles of pristine ocean. A recent survey estimates the density of garbage at 5.1 kilograms per square kilometer. That's 0.0051 grams per square meter. For reference, a pinch of salt weighs about 1 gram. The amount of garbage per square meter (slightly more than 3 x 3 feet) is about 196 times smaller than a pinch of salt. You would have to collect hundreds of gallons of water and spin it in a centrifuge to be able to strain out a few grams of garbage.
As toddzrx points out, there are all kinds of microbes in the oceans that feed on microscopic garbage, even ones that east plastic. See, for example, here:
http://phys.org/news/2016-03-newly-bacteria-plastic-bottles.html
You're welcome, VirtualGathis.
For more on the myth of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch:
http://thefederalist.com/2016/09/19/the-garbage-philosophy-behind-the-great-pacific-garbage-patch-myth/
Or search Wikipedia for Great Pacific garbage patch.
techmanmacho
This would be all fine and dandy, if it weren't the fact it doesn't exist. http://www.snopes.com/great-pacific-garbage-patch/
signed, techmanmacho
LaurenAnderson
Should be a really boring flight since you can't actually see the garbage. From Wikipedia:
"Most debris consists of small plastic particles suspended at or just below the surface, making it impossible to detect by aircraft or satellite"
Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
If you put your fingers in your ears all the time, sure, you can believe that all the plastics in the ocean and the problem will magically disappear by itself over time. The reality however, is that the damage it does is on such a stupidly big scale that you would be a fool to ignore or dismiss it.