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Great Pacific garbage patch

Gyre of debris in the North Pacific / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The Great Pacific garbage patch (also Pacific trash vortex and North Pacific garbage patch[1]) is a garbage patch, a gyre of marine debris particles, in the central North Pacific Ocean. It is located roughly from 135°W to 155°W and 35°N to 42°N.[2] The collection of plastic and floating trash originates from the Pacific Rim, including countries in Asia, North America, and South America.[3]

Great Pacific garbage patch in August 2015 (model)
Map showing large-scale looping water movements within the Pacific. One circle west to Australia, then south and back to Latin America. Further north, water moves east to Central America, and then joins a larger movement further north, which loops south, west, north, and east between North America and Japan. Two smaller loops circle in the eastern and central North Pacific.
The patch is created in the gyre of the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone.

Despite the common public perception of the patch existing as giant islands of floating garbage, its low density (4 particles per cubic metre (3.1/cu yd)) prevents detection by satellite imagery, or even by casual boaters or divers in the area. This is because the patch is a widely dispersed area consisting primarily of suspended "fingernail-sized or smaller"—often microscopic—particles in the upper water column known as microplastics.[4] Researchers from The Ocean Cleanup project claimed that the patch covers 1.6 million square kilometres (620,000 square miles)[5] consisting of 45,000–129,000 metric tons (50,000–142,000 short tons) of plastic as of 2018.[6] The same 2018 study found that, while microplastics dominate the area by count, 92% of the mass of the patch consists of larger objects which have not yet fragmented into microplastics. Some of the plastic in the patch is over 50 years old, and includes items (and fragments of items) such as "plastic lighters, toothbrushes, water bottles, pens, baby bottles, cell phones, plastic bags, and nurdles".

Research indicates that the patch is rapidly accumulating.[6] The patch is believed to have increased "10-fold each decade" since 1945.[7] The gyre contains approximately six pounds of plastic for every pound of plankton.[8] A similar patch of floating plastic debris is found in the Atlantic Ocean, called the North Atlantic garbage patch.[9][10] This growing patch contributes to other environmental damage to marine ecosystems and species.

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