Watch humanity ruin the oceans: Shocking NASA animation shows how plastic moves around the Earth’s seas before forming giant ‘garbage patches’ 

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  • Scientists introduce new way to detect oceanic microplastics from space
  • Microplastics are small pieces of plastic less than five millimeters in length
  • About 8 million tons of plastic flow into the ocean annually from rivers and beaches

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Scientists have created a shocking animation that shows tiny bits of plastic moving around Earth’s oceans.

The researchers used NASA satellite data to track the movement of microplastics — tiny plastic pieces that are less than five millimeters long in diameter.

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Their animation shows a high microplastic concentration along the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, as well as around the west coast of Central America.

Plastics that fall into our rivers or tide over beaches are carried by currents before ending up in the open ocean.

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These plastics are broken down by waves and sunlight into tiny microplastics, which can be mistaken for food by marine life with deadly consequences.

Plastics that fall into our rivers or tide over beaches are carried by currents before ending up in the open ocean (stock image)

The plastic eventually gets trapped in ocean basins or the centers of subtropical ‘gyres’ – large systems of currents that circulate in each of the five major oceans.

Unfortunately, five of the world’s subtropical gear can host ‘garbage patches’, which contain plastic waste, fishing gear and other debris.

What are Garbage Patches?

Garbage patches are areas with high concentrations of marine debris, according to NOAA,

They are formed by swirling ocean currents called gyres, and are not actually ‘garbage islands’ as is commonly believed.

These patches are composed mostly of microplastics, most of which are the remains of large pieces of plastic waste that have been broken down by the sun, salt, wind and waves.

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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch between California and Hawaii is most famous because it carries a lot of ship traffic.

According to NASA, about 8 million tons of plastic flow into the ocean from rivers and beaches every year.

The animation was created by scientists at the University of Michigan and is detailed in a new paper published on IEEE Explore,

‘Ocean microplastic concentrations vary significantly by location, with particularly high levels in the North Atlantic and North Pacific,’ they say.

‘A new method for detecting and imaging the global distribution of ocean microplastics from space is presented.’

The animation shows the location and concentration of floating plastics between April 2017 and September 2018.

It shows some seasonal variation in microplastic concentrations – in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, for example, microplastic concentrations appear to be higher in summer and lower in winter.

This is likely due to more ‘vertical mixing’ of the ocean as temperatures cool.

Vertical mixing is the upward and downward movement of air or water that results from the temperature difference between the layers of the fluid.

The animation and images on this page show the location and concentration of floating plastics between April 2017 and September 2018.  The data was collected between approximately 38 degrees north and 38 degrees south latitude, the observation range for the CYGNSS mission.

The animation and images on this page show the location and concentration of floating plastics between April 2017 and September 2018. The data was collected between approximately 38 degrees north and 38 degrees south latitude, the observation range for the CYGNSS mission.

Scientists estimate the amount of plastic in patches of marine waste, usually by dragging nets behind boats.

However, according to NASA’s Earth Observatory, this sampling method is ‘geographically sparse’, and does not make sense of how much plastic concentrations change over time.

So researchers at the University of Michigan developed a new method to map the concentration of ocean microplastics around the world.

They used data from eight microsatellites that are part of the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) mission.

The $157 million CYGNSS project launched in 2016 is primarily intended to improve hurricane forecasting.

Radio signals from GPS satellites are reflected off the surface of the ocean, and the CYGNSS satellites detect those reflections.

Researchers used data from eight microsatellites that are part of the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) mission (one is shown here)

Researchers used data from eight microsatellites that are part of the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) mission (one is shown here)

Scientists can then analyze the signals to measure the roughness of the ocean surface.

These measurements already provide scientists with a means to obtain sea wind speeds, which is useful for studying events such as hurricanes, but the signals also reveal the presence of plastic.

When there is plastic or other debris near the surface of the ocean, the waves get wet and the surface of the ocean is less rough than it would otherwise.

‘In clear water, there is a high degree of agreement between ocean roughness and wind speed,’ said Chris Roof, principal investigator of the CYGNSS mission and one of the two authors of the paper.

‘But when you go into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, you see a huge discrepancy between wind speed measurements and surface roughness.’

According to the team the new method will provide better monitoring of ocean microplastics and ‘support future model development and validation’.

One Analysis earlier this year Researchers at Kyushu University found that there are 24.4 trillion pieces of microplastic in the ocean and counting.

What are microplastics and how do they get into our waterways?

Microplastics are plastic particles measuring less than five millimeters (0.2 in).

They have come under the spotlight in recent years because of tons of waste going into the ocean due to improper disposal.

Every year, tons of plastic waste is not recycled and disposed of properly, which could mean that they end up in marine ecosystems.

Although it is not clear how they end up in water, microplastics can enter through the simple everyday wear of clothing and carpets.

Tumble dryers can also be a source, especially if they have…

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