Mystery Swirls Around Atlantic Garbage Patch

It's just not growing, say scientists
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 21, 2010 4:10 PM CDT
This is actually a Pacific garbage patch. But you get the idea.   (AP Photo/ Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Mario Aguilera)

(Newser) – Though you may be more familiar with its more famous cousin, the Texas-size Great Pacific Garbage Patch, there does indeed exist a mass of tiny plastic pieces in the Atlantic. But the North Atlantic Gyre is turning out to be the more mysterious of the two: A two-decades-long study released Thursday has revealed that the total amount of plastic in the patch seems to have leveled off. We're producing more plastic than ever, and our garbage-tossing habits haven't changed, so how is this possible?

One theory, say scientists, is that the pieces are getting smaller and smaller thanks to the ocean's movement and UV rays, and they're simply missing the tiny bits when sampling the plastic. There's also the possibility that some pieces become coated with algae or other sea life, and become heavy enough to sink. The news isn't really reason to celebrate, notes Discover: The patch is huge. "When you expect to see zero plastic hundreds of miles from shore, it’s shocking," says the study's lead author.

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