Where does all the waste go?

Image of the month - February 2001

Simulated drift of waste floating in the Northern Pacific, showing its initial position (top) and spread after one year (middle) and after two years (bottom). Notice how waste quickly accumulates near the same latitude, despite being evenly spread to begin with. (Credits Kubota Lab., Tokai University)


Plastic waste washed up on a beach
(Credits Ifremer/Olivier Barbaroux)

Dumping of waste into the sea has become a major ecological problem. In particular, plastic waste floating on the surface and drifting with the winds and currents poses a danger to marine life. Some sea mammals and birds swallow plastic bags and choke to death, mistaking them for jellyfish.

Simulating waste drift helps us to understand why it tends to accumulate in certain areas, and to determine the speed at which it moves. Satellite altimetry data in particular are a valuable aid for simulations, providing useful information about ocean circulation.

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