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OceansPolicies & Politics

Plastic in the Oceans Vastly Underestimated

 
20120429-134950.jpgThe quantity of plastic trash in the ocean may be vastly underestimated.

In a new study, researchers have found the previous studies of plastic pollution in the oceans have vastly underestimated the true amount.

Researchers discovered that wind was pushing the lightweight confetti-sized plastic down into the water. Previous studies done in recent decades have only involved skimming the surface of the water.

The data collected just from the surface commonly underestimates the total amount by about 2.5 times — and, in areas of high wind, up to a factor of 27.

“That really puts a lot of error into the compilation of the data set,” researcher Glora Proskurowski said.

The vast plastic pollution in the oceans is considered a problem because of the impact it has on fish, and its ability to transport colonies of bacteria and algae living on it far outside their previous range.

20120429-135001.jpg“Almost every tow we did contained plastic regardless of the depth,” lead author of the study, Tobias Kukulka, is quoted as saying.

The study was done by collecting data on a 2010 expedition where a team collected samples at the surface and at a variety of different depths. The researchers then combined that with wind measurements.

“By factoring in the wind, which is fundamentally important to the physical behavior, you’re increasing the rigor of the science and doing something that has a major impact on the data,” Proskurowski said.

“On this topic, what science needs to be geared toward is building confidence that scientists have solid numbers and that policy makers aren’t making judgments based on CNN reports,” he said, referring to common misconceptions such as thinking the garbage patch is a mass of floating trash rather than the tiny pieces of floating plastic that it is.

Source: University of Washington
Image Credits: Sea Education Association




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