5.16.2009

30 Little Known Facts about America

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Great Pacific Garbage Patch

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_Garbage_Patch
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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also described as the Eastern Garbage Patch or the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a gyre of marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean located roughly between 135° to 155°W and 35° to 42°N estimated to be twice the size of Texas. The patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of suspended plastic and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.
The existence of the Eastern Garbage Patch was predicted in a 1988 paper published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States. The prediction was based on results obtained by several Alaska-based researchers between 1985 and 1988 that measured neustonic plastic in the North Pacific Ocean. This research found high concentrations of marine debris accumulating in regions governed by particular patterns of ocean currents. Extrapolating from findings in the Sea of Japan, the researchers postulated that similar conditions would occur in other parts of the Pacific Ocean where prevailing currents were favourable to the creation of relatively stable bodies of water. They specifically indicated the North Pacific Gyre.
The existence of the garbage patch received wider public and scientific attention after it was documented in several articles written by Charles Moore, a California-based sea captain and ocean researcher. Moore, returning home through the North Pacific Gyre after competing in the Transpac sailing race, came upon an enormous stretch of floating debris. Moore alerted the oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer to the existence of the phenomenon, who subsequently dubbed the region the "Eastern Garbage Patch" (EGP). The area is frequently featured in media reports as an exceptional example of marine pollution.
Charles Moore estimates that 80% of the garbage comes from land-based sources, and 20% from ships at sea. Moore states that currents carry debris from the west coast of North America to the gyre in about five years, and debris from the east coast of Asia in a year or less.
The Eastern Garbage Patch has one of the highest levels of plastic particulate suspended in the upper water column. As a result, it is one of several oceanic regions where researchers have studied the effects and impact of plastic photodegradation in the neustonic layer of water. Unlike debris which biodegrades, the photodegraded plastic disintegrates into ever smaller pieces while remaining a polymer. This process continues down to the molecular level.
As the plastic flotsam photodegrades into smaller and smaller pieces, it concentrates in the upper water column. As it disintegrates, the plastic ultimately becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms which reside near the ocean's surface. Plastic waste thus enters the food chain through its intense concentration in the neuston.
Despite Charles Moore's description, the eastern garbage patch cannot be characterised as a continuous visible field of densely floating marine debris. The process of disintegration means that the plastic particulate in much of the affected region may be too small to be seen. Researchers must estimate the overall extent and density of plastic pollution in the EGP by taking samples. In a 2001 study, researchers (including Moore) found that in certain areas of the patch, concentrations of plastic reached one million particles per square mile. The study found concentrations of plastics at 3.34 pieces with a mean mass of 5.1 milligrams per square meter. In many areas of the affected region, the overall concentration of plastics was greater than the concentration of zooplankton by a factor of seven [By 2010 this will be 60 to 1!!!]. Samples collected at deeper points in the water column found much lower levels of plastic debris (primarily monofilament fishing line), confirming earlier observations that most plastic waste concentrates in the upper parts of the water column.
[Source: wikipedia.org]

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