Smart Takes

Massive garbage patch discovered in Atlantic Ocean; 1,000 miles long

Posting in Education

Billions of pieces of plastic trash are accumulating in a massive garbage patch in the Atlantic Ocean, mirroring the Texas-sized one in the Pacific, scientists have found.

Billions of pieces of plastic trash are accumulating in a massive garbage patch in the Atlantic Ocean, mirroring the Texas-sized one in the Pacific, scientists have found.

Located hundreds of miles off the coast of North America -- between 22 and 38 degrees north latitude, or about the distance from Cuba to Virginia -- the patch poses health risks to fish, seabirds and marine animals.

Like the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, debris can circulate for years, accumulating as the result of ocean currents.

The patch was found by student researchers participating in the Sea Education Association's semester academic program, who over 22 years deployed thousands of fine-meshed plankton nets in the area to discover the makeup of the patch.

They found that most of the debris is comprised of tiny pieces of trash -- each "less than a tenth the weight of a paper clip," according to National Geographic --that came from consumer product litter either blown off open landfills or directly disposed of in the ocean.

Students found some areas as dense as 520,000 bits per square mile, or approximately 200,000 bits per square kilometer.

In comparison, spots of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have been found to be as dense as 1.9 million bits per square mile, or approximately 750,000 bits of plastic per square kilometer (and several tens of feet below the surface).

SEA oceanographer Kara Lavender Law revealed the discovery on February 23 at the American Geophysical Union's 2010 Ocean Sciences meeting in Portland, Oregon.

Share this

Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure