I thought I’d make this blog post about my second year project. In both our first and second year in ESE each student writes a 3000 word project on an earth science related topic of our choice. It’s mainly to help us prepare for the big project we’ll have to do in 3rd/4th year, and learn how to research properly but its also so we can find out some more about a topic that interests us.
So this year our title is “Earth Science and Humanity”. I was just browsing around on wikipedia late one night, a week before I had to hand in my project outline wondering/panicking about which topic to choose.
Then I found out some facts about litter in the ocean which completely made my mind up for me about my project title. I completely had no idea about these stastics or even what order of magnitude they would be. So here’s a short quiz… see what you reckon the answers would be! Then I’ve put in some pictures to stop you looking at the answers, which are at the bottom of this post!
1 – When litter and stuff ends up in the ocean, it tends to either break down/sink/get eaten, with the pretty major exception of plastic. The way the world’s ocean currents work mean that all this litter ends up building up as a ‘garbage patch’ in the middle of the ocean. Its a natural process, plankton ends up in big patches as well.
So guess roughly what area of ocean in the Pacific is part of this plastic garbage patch? (as a clue to scale, you want to make your guess in kilometers squared)
2 – In this Great Pacific Garbage Patch, what would you expect the proportion of plastic to zooplankton to be? The same amount of each? Twice as much zooplankton as plastic? Twice as much plastic as zooplankton?
A picture showing the location of gyres in the worlds oceans – from US NOAA
The kind of ‘plastic confetti’ that most of the garbage patch consists of.
Answer to 1 – Estimates range from 700 000 sq km to 15 million sq km. For comparison the UK is about 250 000 square kilometeres in size.
Answer to 2 – Plastic debris outweighted zooplankton 6 to 1 by weight. (data from Charles Moore’s study published in 1999)
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch was first discovered in 1997 by an oceanographer called Charles Moore when he sailed through it (the plastic is suspended just under the surface of the water, so doesn’t show up on satellite imagery). Plus, not only does all this plastic affect wildlife, but due to the complex way it breaks down and the toxic chemicals it contains, it could be a real problem for people in the future. If you want to find out more, wikipedia has some good pages on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or Charles Moore (the oceanographer who first discovered all this plastic has written a book) called Plastic Ocean. Or a good article from The New York Times online http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/10/science/10patch.html