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  (Source: localphilosophy.com)
Media says the "Great Garbage Patch" is twice the size of Texas while an Oregon State researcher says it is less than one percent of the size of Texas

An Oregon State University researcher has found that the media has been exaggerating the size of the "Great Garbage Patch" found between California and Japan. 

Angelicque White, an assistant professor of oceanography at Oregon State University, has studied the "Great Garbage Patch" and all of the media stories surrounding it, and concluded that most media reports have grossly overestimated the size of this garbage patch. 

White came to this conclusion after taking part in an expedition where the objective was to understand how much plastic debris is out there and how it affects the surrounding environment, such as microbial communities. The expedition was funded by the National Science Foundation through the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education. In addition, she has also studied published literature on the topic. 

With her research backing her up, White says that the media has exaggerated the size of the "Great Garbage Patch," making claims like the oceans are filled with more plastic than plankton, or that the patch is twice the size of Texas and has been growing tenfold each decade since 1950. 

"There is no doubt that the amount of plastic in the world's oceans is troubling, but this kind of exaggeration undermines the credibility of scientists," said White. "We have data that allow us to make reasonable estimates; we don't need hyperbole. Given the observed concentration of plastic in the North Pacific, it is simply inaccurate to state that plastic outweighs plankton, or that we have observed an exponential increase in plastic."

Studies show, according to White, that the actual area of the "cohesive" plastic patch is really less than one percent of the size of Texas. She said the best way to look at it is to compare the amount of plastic found with the amount of water its in. 

"If we were to filter the surface area of the ocean equivalent to a football field in waters having the highest concentration [of plastic] ever recorded, the amount of plastic recovered would not even extend to the 1-inch line," said White.  

White also noted that the claim about the amount of plastic growing tenfold every decade is false. This goes for the Atlantic Ocean as well, which, according to White, hasn't increased in plastic since the 1980's. 

"Are we doing a better job of preventing plastics from getting into the ocean?" said White. "Is more plastic sinking out of the surface waters? Or is it being more efficiently broken down? We just don't know. But the data on hand simply do not suggest that 'plastic patches' have increased in size. This is certainly an unexpected conclusion, but it may in part reflect the high spatial and temporal variability of plastic concentrations in the ocean and the limited number of samples that have been collected."

While plastic in the ocean isn't necessarily a good thing, White noted that we can't simply go out there and pick the plastic up out of the ocean. White's expedition, which aimed to observe the plastic's impact on microbial communities, showed that these small organisms have made the plastic particles their "prime real estate" and thrive on the plastic. If the plastic were to be removed, White worries that it could have harmful effects on the microbial community. 

"These small organisms are the heartbeat of the ocean," said White. "They are the foundation of healthy ocean food chains and immensely more abundant than plastic debris." 

What's equally as troubling as the effect on the microbial community is the hyperbole the media has been spreading regarding the garbage patch. White says there are four clarifications that need to be made regarding what people have heard about the garbage patch. First, the amount of energy it would take to take the plastic patch out of the ocean is 250 times the mass of the plastic itself. Second, plastic also covers the ocean floor, but little is known about how much is actually down there. According to a recent survey, about three percent of the Southern California Bight's ocean floor is covered with plastic. Third, White says you cannot see or quantify plastic from space. Most of the plastic isn't even visible from a boat deck. Finally, there are areas of the ocean that are no polluted at all, such as remote areas between Easter Island and Chile. 

"If there is a takeaway message, it's that we should consider it good news that the 'garbage patch' doesn't seem to be as bad as advertised," said White. "But since it would be prohibitively costly to remove the plastic, we need to focus our efforts on preventing more trash from fouling our oceans in the first place."



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is that really acceptable?
By twhittet on 1/6/11, Rating: 0
RE: is that really acceptable?
By ET on 1/6/2011 2:32:37 AM , Rating: 2
Good spin. I'm sure the media will hire you in no time.


RE: is that really acceptable?
By twhittet on 1/6/11, Rating: 0
RE: is that really acceptable?
By bug77 on 1/6/2011 4:32:31 AM , Rating: 2
That's what I argued all along. Twice the size of Texas? Then why don't I see it on Google Earth already? But these days we need scientific studies to figure out the obvious.


RE: is that really acceptable?
By roykahn on 1/6/2011 4:34:53 AM , Rating: 2
I think they meant IF the plastic was stuck together as one unit.


RE: is that really acceptable?
By Amiga500 on 1/6/2011 4:53:18 AM , Rating: 3
You saying Rhode Island is a dump? ;-)


RE: is that really acceptable?
By twhittet on 1/6/2011 10:51:47 AM , Rating: 1
Lol - fine then, Jersey?


By TeXWiller on 1/6/2011 8:33:58 AM , Rating: 5
All this is really a disagreement about the actual size of Texas..


RE: is that really acceptable?
By nafhan on 1/6/2011 10:21:45 AM , Rating: 3
The point of the article wasn't about determining an acceptable amount of plastic to have floating in the ocean. I think they even made the point that the amount out there isn't acceptable.
The point of the article was that the media and some environmentalist groups have made it sound much worse than it is.
I think it would be in the best interest of groups trying to help the environment to accurately report these types of problems. People might not get as worked up about it initially, but they'd also be less likely to throw in the towel when they found out they'd been lied to.


RE: is that really acceptable?
By twhittet on 1/6/2011 11:03:27 AM , Rating: 2
True. That's what I was wondering what a more realistic and comparable size was. Thinking it was "the size of Texas" is rediculous, and I hope no real scientist has ever claimed that as fact!

But claiming the opposite can be just as harmful - "less than 1%" to most people is an acceptable number. I ask for realistic comparisons or actual measurements, because a floating city (county?) of trash is a mind boggling thought to me. Could I drive across it? Build a house on it? I'm asking because I really don't know.


RE: is that really acceptable?
By JediJeb on 1/6/2011 12:06:05 PM , Rating: 2
Well a quick search says that Texas is divided into 254 counties so if you take 2.54 Texas counties that would be roughly 1% of Texas. Of course to get that size in the plastic you would have to corral it all into one cohesive clump, where right now it is spread out over most of the ocean.


RE: is that really acceptable?
By nafhan on 1/6/2011 12:27:49 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
"If we were to filter the surface area of the ocean equivalent to a football field in waters having the highest concentration [of plastic] ever recorded, the amount of plastic recovered would not even extend to the 1-inch line," said White.
Sounds like it's fairly sparse judging by that statement. Definitely enough to be noticeable, but using comparisons like "the size of Texas" apparently gets people thinking it's a solid, edge-to-edge clump of trash.


By theapparition on 1/6/2011 10:32:54 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
I would also assume "cohesive" means stuck together, an island? So - there is an island of plastic somewhere out there the size of a city? Perhaps a county? Rhode Island? Is this really an acceptable concept?

To a point, yes.

I'm not arguing for more pollution, but the affects of such plastic floating islands are not necessarily debilitating. Sound strange to claim that, but there are many precidents in nature that life has a tendency to thrive in ocean flotsam. It provides safe havens to zooplankton and small fish, also a large feeding area for larger fish.

The parallel would be sunken ships as artificial reefs. The amount of life that congregates around these is astounding. As long as the plastics are stable and not hurting wildlife, then yes they can certainly be beneficial.


RE: is that really acceptable?
By zmatt on 1/6/2011 11:46:07 AM , Rating: 2
according to the scientific research yes it is. It seems that large communities of microbial organisms thrive of of the plastic and benefit from it's presence. While it may not be ideal for larger sea creatures, it isn't exactly infesting the ocean and as pointed out these microbes are the "heartbeat" of the ocean and in terms of the food chain the producers are far more important than those at the top when ecological stability is concerned.

naturally it would be best if it were never there, but again as the study points out removing the debris would be very costly and difficult and have negative effects on its own.


RE: is that really acceptable?
By roykahn on 1/7/2011 5:49:06 AM , Rating: 2
Sorry? Microbial organisms thrive off plastic? Got any sources to support that statement?


RE: is that really acceptable?
By Kurz on 1/7/2011 4:37:29 PM , Rating: 2
They can provide a means of shelter in middle ocean.


RE: is that really acceptable?
By Kurz on 1/7/2011 4:38:35 PM , Rating: 2
in the middle of the ocean*.
Omgs I swear I think too fast sometimes.


Energy vs. Mass Of Plastic
By NMR Guy on 1/6/2011 1:30:31 AM , Rating: 5
the amount of energy it would take to take the plastic patch out of the ocean is 250 times the mass of the plastic itself.

:-/

Did anyone think about this before repeating such a ridiculous statement???




RE: Energy vs. Mass Of Plastic
By arkcom on 1/6/2011 1:39:45 AM , Rating: 2
What, specifically, is the problem with this statement?


RE: Energy vs. Mass Of Plastic
By NMR Guy on 1/6/2011 2:28:42 AM , Rating: 3
Well, there aren't even any units specified, so it's not a meaningful statement.

Even if there were units given, it wouldn't make any sense to compare a unit of energy to a unit of mass in this particular case. Are we supposed to assume a total mass to energy conversion? If so, "250" would be be *way* off ;-)

I think it's likely that someone divided the estimated enery cost in some arbitrary unit by the estimated mass in arbitrary units and got ~250, and then the statement was then repeated by Dailytech, and a bunch of others.


RE: Energy vs. Mass Of Plastic
By Solandri on 1/6/2011 2:40:16 AM , Rating: 2
I assumed it was the mass of fuel oil needed to provide enough energy to clean up the plastic. That's the way I would've done the comparison. e.g. burn 250 kg of diesel to collect 1 kg of plastic.


RE: Energy vs. Mass Of Plastic
By adiposity on 1/6/2011 10:06:28 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I assumed it was the mass of fuel oil needed to provide enough energy to clean up the plastic.


That is not a particularly reasonable assumption.

Typically one does not compare the weight of a fuel with the weight of the object that fuel is intended to provide the energy to displace. It is a meaningless comparison and that is why the original poster pointed it out.

Even if that is what they meant, what exactly is the point? It's not as if weight of garbage and weight of fuel are related. For all we know, 250 times the weight of plastic (which is pretty light) is a fairly reasonable amount of fuel to spend on cleaning it up. Now, you may say it's not a reasonable amount. But hopefully that would be based on the actual amount of fuel used, and not the irrelevant ratio of fuel to plastic.


By ElGuapo2872 on 1/6/2011 10:15:26 AM , Rating: 3
Actually thanks to Mr. Einstein, we CAN equate mass to energy with E=mc^2! Therefore, the problem is clearly that if we were to remove all of the garbage in a short time span, we would release enough energy to vaporize the pacific ocean and most likely a large part of the earths crust.


By marvdmartian on 1/6/2011 8:19:38 AM , Rating: 1
Just another example of spin, as the media is so good at doing.

Also, a correction:
"Finally, there are areas of the ocean that are noT polluted at all, such as remote areas between Easter Island and Chile."

I bolded the word needing correction, Tiffany. Last line of the 2nd to last paragraph. Need to add the T to "no".


By kattanna on 1/6/2011 10:37:35 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
researcher has found that the media has been exaggerating


LOL




Talk about hand-wringing...
By Schrag4 on 1/6/2011 10:33:52 AM , Rating: 1
quote:
While plastic in the ocean isn't necessarily a good thing, White noted that we can't simply go out there and pick the plastic up out of the ocean. White's expedition, which aimed to observe the plastic's impact on microbial communities, showed that these small organisms have made the plastic particles their "prime real estate" and thrive on the plastic. If the plastic were to be removed, White worries that it could have harmful effects on the microbial community.


So the plastic is "bad", but we can't pick it up because it's necessary for life that has called it home. So which is it? Should we be intentionally increasing our dumping of plastics or should we clean it up? Did this paragraph strike anyone else as a disgusting combination of tree-hugging and spinelessness?




Credibility
By Indianapolis on 1/6/11, Rating: -1
RE: Credibility
By 2uantuM on 1/6/11, Rating: 0
RE: Credibility
By Indianapolis on 1/6/11, Rating: 0
RE: Credibility
By Denigrate on 1/6/2011 11:18:55 AM , Rating: 5
No, you were automatically rated down for using the word ASS in your post.


RE: Credibility
By Indianapolis on 1/6/2011 12:13:04 PM , Rating: 1
No, my post dropped to -1 temporarily before being voted back up. Using a naughty word does not do that. And I'm not sure the word in question even qualifies since your post is at 2.


RE: Credibility
By aguilpa1 on 1/6/2011 11:23:05 AM , Rating: 5
What I find incredible is people who fight against trying to keep your environment clean of pollutants, toxic chemicals and work that protects nature and the planet? You will always have zealots on one end or their other and people get carried away. In the end people who protest against other people who are willing to stand up for nature or work to make it better is the most idiotic thing ever. Would you not rather err on the side of caution than wait until there is nothing left for your children to inherit? WTF?


RE: Credibility
By JediJeb on 1/6/2011 12:11:25 PM , Rating: 5
But if you err on the side of caution to the point that you destroy something else worth saving they you have done a double disservice. Just as the report said, if everyone ran out in boats to remove the plastic from the ocean, the resulting pollution from the fuel needed to do the job would cause more harm than the plastic itself. There erring on the side of caution would be a bad thing if it led to a massive cleanup that did more harm than good.

A thoughtful and well researched plan of action will outweigh blindly doing something for the sake of doing something any day.


RE: Credibility
By nolisi on 1/6/2011 12:56:03 PM , Rating: 4
Not a bad point, but it comes from the rather limited perspective of dealing with a problem only after it has occurred and become big enough to garner public attention.

It's funny how when it comes to environmental issues, those who argue against the severity of pollution's effects always want more research to prove the claims of the "green movement" in order to implement their version of "erring on the side of caution" (so we don't waste resources solving a problem that may not exist). Truly erring on the side of caution actually starts BEFORE the problem even begins to manifest and before industry releases products/services that have an affect on the environment.

In this case, erring on the side of caution is to NOT dump in the ocean in the first place, this way we don't have to waste resources researching the problem then more resources solving the potential problem.

We don't put the onus on ourselves as a culture/race to research the effects of the things we produce BEFORE we allow industry to mass distribute services/products. Recycling, waste management, environmental effects and pollution reduction come only as an afterthought rather than as a part of the research/production process. Erring on the side of caution in this regard is resisted because it involves an increased initial cost. Dealing with the problem later "always" involves the initial increased cost of research plus the cost of dealing with it.

Erring on the side of caution in the first place (researching products/services and determining impact on environment, waste reclamation procedures, etc) reduces wasted cost/effort/resources/environment later.


RE: Credibility
By JediJeb on 1/6/2011 6:00:19 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
In this case, erring on the side of caution is to NOT dump in the ocean in the first place, this way we don't have to waste resources researching the problem then more resources solving the potential problem.


I couldn't agree more! I myself would prefer preventative measures over reactive ones.

Also there are many companies now that will do some research up front on the impact of what they manufacture on the environment because they look at long term profits and understand that if they are causing problems down the road it could cost them more than they ever made in the first place. Sadly not all companies are so responsible, and usually those are the ones that are only around for a short time or end up as mediocre players and not the industry leaders for the long haul.


RE: Credibility
By Skywalker123 on 1/6/2011 11:28:20 PM , Rating: 2
The problem being that the Execs only care about short term profits as that is what their bonus is based on. They figure let someone else worry about the long term consequences.


RE: Credibility
By arazok on 1/6/2011 9:25:26 AM , Rating: 4
There has been bad science for as long as there have been scientists. What’s changed is that the media simply reports everything without asking itself if it’s reporting the truth accurately or not.


RE: Credibility
By Lerianis on 1/7/2011 1:13:38 AM , Rating: 3
With all due respect, the media usually doesn't have specialists on tap for every scientific field out there. So, they print and then if something is wrong later, they print ANOTHER article pointing out the problems in that first article.


RE: Credibility
By Shadowmaster625 on 1/6/2011 10:36:52 AM , Rating: 2
Tell that to the sea turtle with the six-pack ring stuck around it.


RE: Credibility
By JediJeb on 1/6/2011 12:15:18 PM , Rating: 2
Is it better that one sea turtle dies from a six pack ring or that we burn thousands of gallons of fuel searching for that one sea turtle so that we may save it all the while polluting the environment with all that exhaust?


RE: Credibility
By nolisi on 1/6/2011 12:59:45 PM , Rating: 2
It's better that we not throw the six pack ring in the ocean in the first place so the issue of a choking turtle doesn't exist in the first place.

Funny how the simple solution always seems to elude certain people...


RE: Credibility
By Schrag4 on 1/6/2011 1:59:33 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
It's better that we not throw the six pack ring in the ocean in the first place so the issue of a choking turtle doesn't exist in the first place.

Funny how the simple solution always seems to elude certain people...


What's being debated here is what to do with the trash that has already been thrown in. Thanks for giving us a third, obvious solution. Why didn't I think of time travel?


RE: Credibility
By nolisi on 1/6/11, Rating: 0
RE: Credibility
By Schrag4 on 1/6/2011 5:30:21 PM , Rating: 2
Ok, so you finally took the position that we should...

quote:
burn thousands of gallons of fuel


...in order to clean up the mess. I have no problem with that, as that's actually my answer too, particularly because I don't see burned fuel as actually polluting while plastic floating in the ocean, in my opinion, is pollution.

By the way, you seem to have a lot of ideas about what everyone should do. While I agree that people and corporations shouldn't dump pollution in the ocean, I cringe at the idea that all this new legislation should be enacted. But from the tone of your posts, I suspect you come from a society that looks to government action and regulation as a solution for all of its problems. Sorry if I missed the mark, that's just how it comes across for me...


RE: Credibility
By corduroygt on 1/10/2011 9:07:01 PM , Rating: 2
How about paying the ships that were to sail the ocean anyway to clean it up as much as they can? The extra fuel consumption due to extra drag should not be too much since plastic is pretty sparse.


RE: Credibility
By arazok on 1/6/2011 2:04:57 PM , Rating: 3
That’s beside the point. If only one sea turtle dies from a six pack, why do people report that a hundred thousand died?


RE: Credibility
By JediJeb on 1/6/2011 6:12:45 PM , Rating: 2
I would agree that prevention is better, but once it has happened it is best to not make the situation worse than it has to be. I don't understand people who would pollute the way so many have in the past, but I also cringe at those who will charge in blindly to save something not taking into account the damage they may be doing to everything else in the process. Like this article states, some in the past have blown the whole situation out of proportion to try to bring attention to a problem which, though serious, is not the end of the world it was made out to be.

I remember when a story on this appeared around a year ago. Some professor had been sailing in that area and found the masses of plastic floating in the ocean and came back to tell the horror stories about it. Yet there was no mention of him bringing back a boat full of the plastics, only the story and his outrage. If he has truly been serious about it then shouldn't he have packed his small boat with at much plastic as he could haul on board and bring it back to be disposed of properly? Sure it would not have made a dent in the total problem, but at least he would have been putting actions to his words of concern about the problem.


RE: Credibility
By Alexvrb on 1/8/2011 9:36:25 PM , Rating: 2
Captain Hindsight, is that you?

Mintberrrrrry crunch!


RE: Credibility
By ClownPuncher on 1/6/2011 2:44:36 PM , Rating: 2
Turtles can't talk. You could avoid this by buying respectable beer that doesnt come in cans.


RE: Credibility
By Yames on 1/6/2011 6:02:52 PM , Rating: 2
Some very respectable beer comes in cans. And who says the ring wasn't from a soda six anyway.

Yes people need to dispose of plastics in a responsible way.


RE: Credibility
By ClownPuncher on 1/6/2011 7:43:10 PM , Rating: 2
Beer is better for you than most soda, so I was just assuming we were being health conscious :)

True, there are a few beers that come in cans that can be quite good. I just don't want to be the one putting an Old Chub up to my mouth.


RE: Credibility
By tmouse on 1/6/2011 11:19:11 AM , Rating: 2
I'll have to disagree with you there. I highly doubt MOST environmental scientists do not care about their credibility; after all White is an environmental scientist. As in all aspects of our society there is a very vocal minority who believe their crap should be used as a universal monetary standard. They do most of the talking and the media which has equally (if not more)fallen from having any standards other than being controversial to support ad revenue takes these half-truths and spins them even more. But hey we feel we want all the information the second it happens so you get what you ask for and the person who shouts the loudest becomes the winner whether they are right or wrong.


RE: Credibility
By YashBudini on 1/6/11, Rating: 0
RE: Credibility
By YashBudini on 1/6/11, Rating: 0
“And I don't know why [Apple is] acting like it’s superior. I don't even get it. What are they trying to say?” -- Bill Gates on the Mac ads














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