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Earth Science

Ocean Currents Are Sweeping Billions of Tiny Plastic Bits to the Arctic (smithsonianmag.com) 49

The world's oceans are littered with trillions of pieces of plastic -- bottles, bags, toys, fishing nets and more, mostly in tiny particles -- and now this seaborne junk is making its way into the Arctic. From a report: The plastic was discovered by an international team of researchers who circumnavigated the Arctic on a five-month journey aboard the research vessel Tara in 2013. They sampled the ocean water along the way, looking at plastic pollution. And though the plastic concentrations were overall low, they located a specific region located north of the Greenland and the Barents seas with unusually high concentrations. They published their results in the journal Science Advances this week. It seems that the plastic is riding up to the pole with the Thermohaline Circulation, a "conveyor" belt ocean current that transports water from the lower latitudes of the Atlantic Ocean toward the poles. "[A]nd the Greenland and the Barents Seas act as a dead-end for this poleward conveyor belt," Andres Cozar Cabanas, lead author of the study and researcher at the University of Cadiz, Spain, says in a press release.

Ocean Currents Are Sweeping Billions of Tiny Plastic Bits to the Arctic

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  • Plastic is lower density than water, so it floats to the top.

    Duh.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      More importantly, it might act as a convenient surface to catch snowfall and get it thick enough to form a new glacier before the salt water underneath can get to it.
    • While we're implementing executive orders, why can't the US jump into the lead on an important technical issue by mandating that all plastic manufactured in this country have a specific gravity of at least 1.1 ? End of problem.

      • If we let them put lead and mercury in the plastic to meet this directive, then we can also get rid of all our dangerous heavy metals.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by slacktide ( 796664 )
      All of the plastic decorations on the bottom of my fishtank beg to disagree. Some plastic is lower density than water. Some is not.
    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Yeah. And I bet those stupid physical oceanographers don't realize that temperature and salinity gradients in the ocean are continuous either.

      I mean it stands to reason. If you had a bathtub half full of cold fresh water and half full of warm salty water, pretty soon you'd end up with a tub full of warm brackish water, right? So the oceans must be the same. Contrariwise, the water in a bathtub has to drain clockwise in the northern hemisphere.

      • Right on! I'm not even sure what oceanographers do. They just use tax money to go out on their big science yachts and play with remote control submersibles. I wish they'd do something useful like find oil or sea coal.

  • we'll just use the arctic to store our garbage. Win win.

  • My thought is, it sounds like a good thing for the option of filtering out the plastic bits from the ocean water to recycle or re-use them in some manner. If mother nature is naturally making them collect in one area, that means half the work is already done for them!

    • No need to filter, or worry about getting the plastic out. The bits will break down by sun, waves, and bacteria.

      If you want to do something, it's better to start at the beginning, and reduce the amount of plastic that goes into the ocean.

      • No need to filter, or worry about getting the plastic out. The bits will break down by sun, waves, and bacteria.

        Correct, but you forgot one thing which is more important -- consequence. When plastic broke down to plastic-derived chemicals [nationalgeographic.com], that is the real issue. You shouldn't just sit an way for plastic to degrade by itself if you could take it out before it becomes toxic to the ocean!

        • if you could take it out before it becomes toxic to the ocean!

          Before you get a chance to take 0.1% out, the other 99.9% will already have broken down. Like I said, if you want to do something about it, you have to stop the stuff getting into the ocean in the first place.

    • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      It's not collected in one area and the areas that are polluted are so large that we can't collect enough samples to say for certain how large they are. Estimates range from 700,000 square kilometres (270,000 sq mi) to more than 15,000,000 square kilometres (5,800,000 sq mi).

      Even if you could determine where it all was, filtering is not an option. It's not like mowing a lawn. Water moves. You can't filter one patch at a time. Even if you could, you'd be removing all of t

    • We are spreading basically food into diverse ecosystems all over the planet; eventually, that food source will find something that eats it easily, and therefore spreads to engulf the new food source. :)

      All we need is one good bacteria, and no more plastics.

  • by DeplorableCodeMonkey ( 4828467 ) on Friday April 21, 2017 @03:02PM (#54278339)

    Because the environmental movement has been anti-human for a long time and never concerned itself with pragmatism. Hence the knee-jerk hostility toward all--all--nuclear power, instead of saying we should make it safer as we invest in it. This issue is hard, but something governments can actually pursue aggressively without intruding hard into the economy. Simple solution: phase out disposable plastic as much as possible. Going to glass and aluminum will make soda too expensive for the poor? Good. Now we're tackling public healthcare-subsidized obesity at the same time.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 21, 2017 @03:34PM (#54278593)

      Going to glass and aluminum will make soda too expensive for the poor? Good. Now we're tackling public healthcare-subsidized obesity at the same time.

      Back when sodas were sold in glass bottles, Coke (and their forgettable competitors) implemented a bottle buyback model so they could clean and re-use the bottles.

      Soda companies did not move from this model to thin plastic because plastic was cheaper, they moved away because of a germaphobic generation obsessed with discarding anything that might carry pathogens just to be safe. Faced with the widescale rejection of their bottle reclamation and re-use program, soda companies found the cheapest disposable resource, which was also a favorite of the sanitary dogma, plastic.

      Cans survived because even though there was also a can buyback process, the mechanism of opening a soda can is destructive and non-trivially reversible. Even the more extreme of the sterile fanatics could accept that melting tin or aluminum and recasting a new can would be destructive enough to kill any bacteria from prior human contact.

      • by swb ( 14022 )

        I remember those 16 oz returnable bottles and how carrying two 8 packs back to the dorm two blocks damn near killed my hands they were so heavy.

        I have a hard time believing that germaphobes, and not cost, had anything to do with the death of "Coke bottles". Unless you only eat fast food, EVERY ITEM ON YOUR RESTAURANT TABLE except the food has been used before, and that's just ONE example.

        Those returnable bottles were extremely heavy, 12 ounces empty when they held 16 ounces of liquid. An eight pack weighs

      • I'm sorry but your poor attempt to explain the numberous stupid decisions that have been made the global entities and blaming it on everyday joes is laughable and extremely boring. Just had to let you know.
    • the environmental movement has been anti-human for a long time and never concerned itself with pragmatism.

      There's nothing anti-human about preserving the environment humans live in.

      There's nothing pragmatic about permitting people to spend natural capital faster than it can be replenished, without a plan as to where the resources are going to come from after they are depleted.

      Simple solution: phase out disposable plastic as much as possible.

      The simple solution is to ban all use of material which is not reasonably recylable, or honestly compostable.. And I don't just mean for packaging. I mean for making cars out of, or making smartphones out of, or making shoes or underwear o

      • Aluminum isn't exactly expensive.

        Seeing as there's a viable recycle market for it even if no redemption value is applied, whereas glass is cheaper to landfill than to sort and transport to recycle I would argue that Al *is* expensive.

        • Seeing as there's a viable recycle market for it even if no redemption value is applied, whereas glass is cheaper to landfill than to sort and transport to recycle I would argue that Al *is* expensive.

          That's only because you don't know what you're talking about. Aluminum and glass are both energy-intensive to produce. But recycling glass takes so close to as makes no difference as much energy as producing virgin glass, while recycling Aluminum is much cheaper than refining new aluminum. Glass containers are also bulky and heavy compared to aluminum ones, so it costs more to transport them to and from the recycling site. Finally, laser spectroscopy has made it very cheap to sort aluminum by grade, and sor

          • recycling Aluminum is much cheaper than refining new aluminum.

            Thus Al is expensive.
            The more expensive a material is, the more impetus there is to recycle. More specifically, the larger the delta between using raw feedstock vs recycle existing OR the more rare the initial feedstock is, the more impetus to recycle

  • its a job creator. We can now have floating plastic extraction farms = moar jobs. You wouldn't want something like clean oceans to get in the way of moar job?

  • ...the plastic in the ocean doesn't stay in one place but moves around with the currents? Cutting edge research.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    your buy-and-throw culture where everything comes in its own little plastic wrapper, and crazy use of plastic micro beads in everything from toothpaste to body lotion for "deep pore cleansing" is responsible for the vast majority of the plastic soup in the oceans now. What are you doing to clean up after yourselves, exactly?

  • These vagabond particles... are longing to stray, I want to be a part of it! Antarctica! Aantarctica! And if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere! It's up to you, Antarctica, Antarctica!
  • Well, it needs a little color. So drab.

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