The researchers feed the model data on currents and winds to simulate the movement of marine debris. The model's results were then compared with data from satellite-tracked surface buoys from the NOAA Global Drifter Program's database. Data from both anchored buoys and those that become unanchored, or undrogued, over time were used to see how each accumulated in the five ocean gyres over a roughly 20-year timeframe.
This image shows the density of finite-size objects after 1.5 years of evolution starting from a uniform distribution under the combined action of simulated ocean currents and reanalyzed winds.
Credit: Beron-Vera, Olascoaga and Lumpkin
The study, which takes into account the combined effects of water and wind-induced drag on these objects, found that the accumulation of marine debris in the subtropical gyres is too fast to be due solely to the effect of trade winds that converge in these regions.
Global plastic concentration map is based on data collected during the Malaspina 2010 circumnavigation and regional surveys.
Credit: Cozar, A., et al. (2014), Plastic debris in the open ocean, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA, 111(28), 10,239-10,244, doi:10.1073/pnas.1314705111.
The model could be used to track shipwrecks, airplane debris, sea ice and pollution among the many practical applications according to the researchers.
Contacts and sources:
The study, titled "Inertia-induced accumulation of flotsam in the subtropical gyres," was published in Geophysical Research Letters. The study's authors are: Francisco Beron-Vera, Maria Josefina Olascoaga, and Rick Lumpkin from the NOAA Atlantic Oceanic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML). http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/2016GL071443
The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, NOAA/AOML, and the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS), a joint enterprise between NOAA/AOML and the University of Miami R