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Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP)

Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP)
Highlights

The Great Pacific garbage patch (GPGP), also described as the Pacific trash vortex, is a gyre of marine debris particles in the central North Pacific...

The Great Pacific garbage patch (GPGP), also described as the Pacific trash vortex, is a gyre of marine debris particles in the central North Pacific Ocean discovered between 1985 and 1988. It is located roughly between 135°W to 155°W and 35°N to 42°N. The collection of plastic, floating trash halfway between Hawaii and California extends over an indeterminate area of widely varying range depending on the degree of plastic concentration used to define the affected area.

The great Pacific garbage patch was described in a 1988 paper published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States. The description was based on results obtained by several Alaska-based researchers in 1988 that measured neustonic plastic in the North Pacific Ocean.

The patch is characterized by exceptionally high relative pelagic concentrations of plastic, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. Its low density (four particles per cubic meter) prevents detection by satellite imagery, or even by casual boaters or divers in the area. It consists primarily of an increase in suspended, often microscopic, particles in the upper water column.

The size of the patch is unknown, as is the precise distribution of debris, because large items readily visible from a boat deck are uncommon. Most debris consists of small plastic particles suspended at or just below the surface, making it difficult to accurately detect by aircraft or satellite. Instead, the size of the patch is determined by sampling.

Estimates of size range vary from the size of Texas to about the size of Russia. Such estimates, however, are conjectural given the complexities of sampling and the need to assess findings against other areas. Further, although the size of the patch is determined by a higher-than-normal degree of concentration of pelagic debris, there is no standard for determining the boundary between "normal" and "elevated" levels of pollutants to provide a firm estimate of the affected area. The United Nations Ocean Conference estimated that the oceans might contain more weight in plastics than fish by the year 2050.

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