Garbage patches form in the world’s oceans when debris starts collecting in one area. It’s a phenomenon that we’ve known about for some time, but are only just starting to understand it. Researchers at the University of Miami Rosentiel School have developed a computer model which can help to explain how debris gets pulled into these gyres that form the garbage patches. The model uses currents and wind to determine where debris will end up, and is supported by data collected from the NOAA Global Drifter Program.
The model found that wind alone is not enough to account for how quickly garbage ends up in patches, far from where it enters the ocean. The model indicates that the size and weight of the debris has to be taken into consideration, too. With this new information in mind, the door is open to future research to learn more about the garbage patches – though prevention of their formation or expansion is an issue that research alone won’t solve. Lessening the amount of garbage we produce and dispose of will be up to governments and citizens. But perhaps this research will lead us to some possible solutions for existing patches.
Like much research, however, the real value of this may be in more expanded applications. For example, the researchers behind the model think that it “could be used to track shipwrecks, airplane debris, sea ice and pollution” as well. If this is the case, it would allow us to figure out where other things are going to end up in the ocean and track them down when necessary.
Further, understanding how sea ice melts or where it flows could go a long way toward developing a better understanding on how to preserve that sea ice as ice. Greater understanding of how wind and currents interact with floating objects could tell us a lot about the ocean, opening up more doors for fascinating research.