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Pacific Plastic Soup worser than we thought

Pacific Plastic Soup worser than we thought

An aerial survey, a C130 Hercules aircraft was fitted with state-of-art sensors from Teledyne Optech, whose Coastal Zone Mapping and Imaging Lidar (CZMIL) can detect objects at oceanic depths of tens of meters

The Pacific Garbage Patch survey concluded: ‘It’s Worse Than We Thought’.

Boyan Slat, the 22-year-old Dutch inventor and CEO behind The Ocean Cleanup, announced today preliminary results of the organization’s latest major research mission, the Aerial Expedition, the first-ever aerial survey of an ocean garbage patch, also called ‘the plastic soup‘.

“One of the things that we are already able to share is right at the edge of the Plastic Soup we came across more objects than we were expecting to find in the center of the garbage patch,” Slat said at a press conference at Moffett Airfield in Mountain View, California.


During a period of just two and a half hours, our crew observed more than a thousand large objects of plastic floating underneath this aircraft.

“Although we still need to get a detailed analysis of the results, it’s really quite safe to say that it’s worse than we thought. Again, this underlines the urgency of why we need to clean it up and that we really need to take care of the plastic that’s already out there in the ocean.”

Ghost nets

The Ocean Cleanup’s Aerial Expedition aims to accurately measure a particularly large and harmful type of marine debris known as ghost nets. The Ocean Cleanup crew determined that quantifying such objects will help resolve the “last piece of our puzzle” following last year’s Mega Expedition, a 30-day reconnaissance mission that produced the first high-resolution map of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but came short in determining just how much plastic was in the ocean, especially larger items.

Detect objects at oceanic depths of tens of meters

The team discovered that the conventional method of measuring ocean plastic, using nets of less than a meter (3 ft) wide, was inaccurate because it seriously underestimated the total amount of plastic. The reason for this is simple: the larger the objects, the rarer they are by count, the Ocean Cleanup team said.

So, instead of using boats to count ocean plastic, the team turned to planes.

To conduct their aerial survey, a C130 Hercules aircraft was fitted with state-of-art sensors from Teledyne Optech, whose Coastal Zone Mapping and Imaging Lidar (CZMIL) can detect objects at oceanic depths of tens of meters. This technology can also provide researchers with a weight estimate by registering the size of the found objects.

The aircraft, dubbed Ocean Force One, was scheduled to make several flights from Sept. 26 to Oct. 7. These low-speed, low-altitude flights inspected an estimated 6,000 square kilometers of the ocean, more than 300 times the area explored at the Mega Expedition.

Pacific Hawaii – California

Yesterday, mission crew completed the first of two test flights above Moffett Airfield to calibrate the aircraft’s ocean plastic sensors and familiarize themselves with the survey protocol. The aircraft flew along the Northern boundary of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the plastic accumulation zone between Hawaii and California.

The Aerial Expedition’s findings will be combined with the data collected on the Mega Expedition, resulting in a study expected to be published in early 2017.

Video information by Boyan Slat

Knowing how much and what kind of plastic has accumulated in the ocean garbage patches is especially important. This determines the design of cleanup systems, the logistics of hauling plastic back to shore, the methods for recycling plastic and the costs of the cleanup.

Scour the ocean surface

Four experienced observers will scour the ocean surface from the aircraft’s open paratroop doors, while two computer operators log the data. The pilots and navigator will also search for ocean plastic from their seats in the cockpit, where another computer operator will log their sightings.

The visual survey is the final major research mission before the actual start of Slat’s ambitious ocean cleanup effort.

“This is really the last reconnaissance step before we start the real cleanup,” he said at the press conference.

Mission Ocean Cleanup

The Ocean Cleanup, headquartered in Delft, The Netherlands now employs approximately 50 engineers and researchers. In June, the Ocean Cleanup deployed a 100-meter clean-up boom, nicknamed Boomy McBoomface, in the North Sea in The Netherlands.

The Ocean Cleanup’s mission is to rid the world’s oceans of plastic, a scourge that severely pollutes and damages ocean ecosystems and economies. About 8 million tons of plastic enters the oceans each year.

At today’s press conference, Slat warned that large pieces of plastic can “crumble down into those small microplastics … and that has a tremendous environmental impact if it ends up in the food chain.” Full deployment of the Ocean Cleanup system is scheduled for 2020.


Stop the plastic soup initiatives in this dossier

Stop the Plastic Soup (dossier)

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