Environment

Take two: Upgraded Ocean Cleanup barrier returns to take on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Take two: Upgraded Ocean Clean...
After a sizeable stint on the sidelines, The Ocean Cleanup Project is bouncing back into action
After a sizeable stint on the sidelines, The Ocean Cleanup Project is bouncing back into action
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It was October last year that the Ocean Cleanup Project installed the first version of its trash-collection device
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It was October last year that the Ocean Cleanup Project installed the first version of its trash-collection device
The Ocean Cleanup team prepares to tow its system out to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
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The Ocean Cleanup team prepares to tow its system out to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
An earlier version of the Ocean Cleanup's system used large stabilizing frames
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An earlier version of the Ocean Cleanup's system used large stabilizing frames
After a sizeable stint on the sidelines, The Ocean Cleanup Project is bouncing back into action
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After a sizeable stint on the sidelines, The Ocean Cleanup Project is bouncing back into action
The Ocean Cleanup's system is essentially a 600-meter (2,000-ft) U-shaped barrier that floats on the ocean’s surface with a skirt dangling below
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The Ocean Cleanup's system is essentially a 600-meter (2,000-ft) U-shaped barrier that floats on the ocean’s surface with a skirt dangling below
The Ocean Cleanup Project team tests its large parachute that will act as a sea anchor
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The Ocean Cleanup Project team tests its large parachute that will act as a sea anchor
The Ocean Cleanup Project team tests its large parachute that will act as a sea anchor
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The Ocean Cleanup Project team tests its large parachute that will act as a sea anchor
After a sizeable stint on the sidelines, The Ocean Cleanup Project is bouncing back into action
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After a sizeable stint on the sidelines, The Ocean Cleanup Project is bouncing back into action
The Ocean Cleanup team will attach a string of huge inflatable buoys across the system’s opening, which are hoped to add to the windage of the system and pull it through the water faster
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The Ocean Cleanup team will attach a string of huge inflatable buoys across the system’s opening, which are hoped to add to the windage of the system and pull it through the water faster
The Ocean Cleanup team is looking at attaching a large parachute to its trash-collection system as a way of slowing it down
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The Ocean Cleanup team is looking at attaching a large parachute to its trash-collection system as a way of slowing it down

After a stint on the sidelines, The Ocean Cleanup Project is bouncing back into action following a few upgrades to its trash-catching system. The team was forced to haul in its huge floating barriers for repairs earlier in the year, and now after making a few upgrades is hopeful it has a system better equipped to take on the massive task of plastic pollution in the ocean.

It was October last year that the Ocean Cleanup Project installed the first version of its trash-collection device. The system is essentially a 600-meter (2,000-ft) U-shaped barrier that floats on the ocean's surface with a skirt dangling below.

Propelled by a combination of the ocean currents, surface waves and wind, the system was supposed to travel faster than the plastic it was built to collect, which is propelled by the current alone, allowing it to accumulate within the barrier and be hauled back to shore by support vessels waiting nearby.

At least that was the theory. The team found that after just a few months the barrier had become fractured and perhaps more problematically, was struggling to maintain the speeds required to gather up the trash. So they hauled it back to shore in January to make some adjustments

Rather than failures, the team describes these as "unscheduled learning opportunities" (have to admire the positive attitude). One of the lessons they've learned, according to CEO Boyan Slat, is that it doesn't actually matter if the system travels faster or slower than the plastic. As long as it does one or the other on a constant basis as it sweeps through the patch, the plastic should be able to build up.

The Ocean Cleanup team will attach a string of huge inflatable buoys across the system’s opening, which are hoped to add to the windage of the system and pull it through the water faster
The Ocean Cleanup team will attach a string of huge inflatable buoys across the system’s opening, which are hoped to add to the windage of the system and pull it through the water faster

The upgraded version is now en route to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, with the team preparing to test out a couple of new features to address the previous shortcomings. One is the attachment of a string of huge inflatable buoys across the system's opening, which it's hoped will add to the windage of the system and pull it through the water faster.

The Ocean Cleanup team is looking at attaching a large parachute to its trash-collection system as a way of slowing it down
The Ocean Cleanup team is looking at attaching a large parachute to its trash-collection system as a way of slowing it down

If that fails, the team will turn to Plan B, attaching a huge parachute to the opening. Measuring 20 m (65 ft) across, this is hoped to serve as an anchor of sorts, slowing the system down so that it travels at around the same speed as the water. The team says earlier observations show the plastic can travel much faster than the water current itself, so this should also allow the trash to build up within the U-shaped barrier.

The team has also made a few changes to address the durability issues, building simpler connections between the barrier and floating skirt and removing large stabilizing structures it says are no longer necessary. It has also reduced the size of the barrier by a factor of three and taken a more modular approach to its construction, allowing the team to deploy the system faster and make certain alterations without towing it back to shore.

The Ocean Cleanup Project has previously stated its plans to deploy a fleet of 60 trash-catching systems in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an accumulation of plastic believed to cover 1.6 million sq km (617,000 sq mi), or around three times the size of continental France. It is unclear how these unscheduled "learning opportunities" impact that timeline, but the Project imagines a fleet that size could remove half of that plastic within five years.

Source: The Ocean Cleanup Project

6 comments
Nobody
I wish them luck but most of the unscheduled learning problems were obvious before they went out the first time. Wind, waves and current can be quite difficult as any seafaring person knows. Throw in huge patches of floating sea weed and it gets even tougher. Everyone underestimates the power of the sea.
Colt12
Nobody, So true several months of pretesting was done before the launch to access the durability. I do hope this system will work better than expected. We need to keep up with the people that are throwing plastic into the rivers.
AladdinConnolly
@nobody Everyone underestimates the power of the sea. And no one expects the Spanish inquisition.
christopher
If they wanted to actually tackle the issue, putting garbage collecting into Egypt, Indonesia, and Chinese river communities would be the start - and those are just the 3 I've witnessed *first-hand* who dump everything so it flows into the sea.
merricat
@christopher: You can always say: you should do something else instead, in some other place more intervention is needed. But what they are trying to achieve is very significant, because the plastic trash in the ocean breaks into smaller and smaller pieces, which is eaten by fish and other animals, and then into microplastic which ends up in what we eat.
ljaques
Trash has to be caught at the creek, stream, and river level, before it ever gets to the ocean. Enforce littering laws everywhere, and pass laws in areas (many, many countries) where none yet exist. What gets me is how vague they are about collection after it's in Wilson. Their words are "a vessel picks up the collected plastic and transports it back to land."