August 4, 2009

Scientists To Study Garbage Vortex In The Pacific

A group of scientists is setting sail in the Pacific Ocean to study an unusual island that is made up of garbage.

The so-called "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" is made up of plastic debris that has been collecting under the ocean's surface as people from Asia and the US throw garbage into the water.

The ocean tides have trapped most of the unwanted items in a spiral, and the suns rays have slowly broken the items into small particles. The particles become so fine that they could pose a risk to marine life and birds.

Scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography are embarking on their mission, called Project Kaisei, to study the size of the garbage island as well as its impact on marine life.

"The concern is what kind of impact those plastic bits are having on the small critters on the low end of the ocean food chain," Bob Knox, deputy director of research at Scripps, told Reuters on Monday.

The United Nations Environment Program has estimated that some 13,000 pieces of garbage exist in every square kilometer of the ocean, but the issue becomes magnified in these ocean vortexes.

"You are talking about quite a bit of marine debris but it's not a solid mass. A lot of the items have broken down," Ryan Yerkey, who has sailed across the Pacific twice and studied the debris since the 1980s, told BBC News. "Of course there are larger items out there. But the items, depending on the density and the state they're in, can be anything from the surface down to 20ft to 30ft (6m to 9m) deep."

Scientists will board the New Horizon vessel, which has been equipped with a science lab that will allow them to make calculations at sea.

Additionally, they will be carrying samples of the garbage vortex back to the US in order to conduct further testing.

Scientists will return back to the US at the end of the month.


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