Today I Learned… about the Pacific Garbage Patch

So maybe this was a little misleading, because I already knew about it. But I really think you should know about it as well. Our oceanic dumping constitutes the largest chemistry experiment in human history, an experiment with completely unknowable results, an experiment that may fundamentally reshape our world.

The Great Pacific garbage patch, also described as the Pacific trash vortex, is a gyre of marine debris particles in the central North Pacific Ocean located roughly between 135°W to 155°W and 35°N and 42°N.[1] The patch extends over an indeterminate area, with estimates ranging very widely depending on the degree of plastic concentration used to define the affected area.

The patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.[2] Despite its size and density, the patch is not visible from satellite photography, nor even necessarily to a casual boater or diver in the area, since it consists primarily of a small increase in suspended, often-microscopic particles in the upper water column. Since plastics break down to even smaller polymers, concentrations of submerged particles are not visible from space, nor do they appear as a continuous debris field to human eyes. Instead, the patch is defined as an area in which the mass of plastic debris in the upper water column is significantly higher than average.

This is also the reason why I don’t get too excited when the media breathlessly reports a grouping of debris that may be from the missing airliner MH370. Folks, there is a lot of debris out there.

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