SEANET procrastinates, and miscellaneous

11 07 2009

Since she asked so nicely, I have granted the request of loyal blog reader Jenette and will postpone revealing the dead bird quiz answers until Monday. But this means you definitely have to take a guess Jenette!

350px-north_pacific_gyre_world_map

The five oceanic gyres--does this mean there are five Marine Garbage Patches?

In other news, we received a comment on an earlier post regarding the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Commenting on the map included with that post (shown again here), Chris wrote, “We have multiple Gyres on this map, does that mean that each of them has a garbage patch?” It is an excellent question, and one to which, remarkably, we have no answer. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located in the North Pacific Gyre and was discovered only recently. Oceanographers suspected as early as 1988 that such a place likely existed in the North Pacific, but it was not until 1997 when sea captain Charles Moore, returning home from a sailing race, decided to travel through the remote and almost never visited region of the Pacific known as the doldrums. He and his crew were the first to report the giant marine dump after that trip. 

While the description of a ocean based garbage patch conjures images of floating tires and detergent bottles which must be visible on satellite photographs, most of the debris is actually quite small and consists of plastic fragments suspended in the water column to a considerable depth. As a result, even this massive accumulation of trash is not visible on your typical google earth image. 

So, after that long-winded response, the short answer is that no one has yet ventured through the centers of the other oceanic gyres to survey them for debris. And since shipping lanes avoid these becalmed and far distant waters, there just isn’t anyone headed out that way on other business. Oceanographers presume that similar garbage patches exist in all the gyres, though they believe the North Pacific Gyre likely contains the largest amount of trash. 

Thanks for the question Chris!

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