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Plastic debris can escape Pacific ‘garbage patch’

June 14, 2016

Plastic debris can escape Pacific ‘garbage patch’

14/06/16
Tania Rabesandratana

Plastic debris that was thought to be trapped in vast floating patches in the Pacific Ocean may be able to escape and pollute islands and coastal areas, a study warns.

These great patches of rubbish — sometimes inaccurately called plastic islands or continents — could partly break up due to short-lived, hard-to-observe eddies, the paper finds. Such rubbish had been thought to be permanently trapped in the middle of the Pacific.

“We used to think that [debris] converged in the centre and went round in circles, and now we’ve shown that there are small escape routes,” says lead author Christophe Maes, an oceanographer at the Research Institute for Development in France. He says the finding could help design strategies to collect marine rubbish that threatens marine wildlife.

To obtain these results, Maes’s team relied on computer models with a resolution as fine as three kilometres, compared with the 50- or 100-kilometre resolution of models commonly used to study climate change.

The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters in April, provides a first, exciting confirmation that ‘garbage patches’ are not a “black hole” for plastic debris, says Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at Imperial College London, United Kingdom, who was not involved in the analysis.

Read more at SciDev.Net.

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