2010 ICM Problem：The Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch
Recently, there has been considerable news coverage of the “Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.” See the following:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/10/science/10patch.html?em http://www.sciencefriday.com/program/archives/200907314 http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE57R05E20090828
Based on recent scientific expeditions into the Pacific Ocean Gyre (a convergence zone where debris is accumulating), a wide variety of technical and scientific problems associated with this debris mass are coming to light. While dumping waste into the ocean is not a new activity, the scientific community’s realization that much of the debris (plastics, in particular) are accumulating in high densities over a large area of the Pacific Ocean is new. The scientific community also is learning that this debris creates many potential threats to marine ecology, and, therefore, to human well-being. Those who study this accumulation often describe it as plastic soup or confetti.
This year’s ICM problem uses interdisciplinary modeling to addresses the complex issues stemming from the presence and accumulation of ocean debris, in order to help researchers and ultimately government policy makers to understand the severity, range, and potential global impact of the situation.
As modeling advisors to the expedition, your job is to focus on one element of this debris problem, model and analyze its behavior, and determine its potential effect on marine ecology and the government policies and practices that should be implemented to ameliorate its negative effects. Be sure to consider needs for future scientific research and the economic aspects of the problem, and then write a report to your expedition leader summarizing your findings and proposals for solutions and needed policies and practices. Some of the possible issues/questions you could investigate with your model include:
1. What are the potential short- and long-term effects of the plastic on the ocean environment? What kind of monitoring is required to track the impact on the marine ecosystem? Be sure to account for temporal and spatial variability. What are the associated resourcing requirements?
2. How can the extent, density and distribution of the plastic in the gyre be best understood and described? What kind of monitoring plan is required to track the growth/decay/movement of the plastics, and what kind of resourcing is required to implement that plan?
3. What is the nature or mechanism of the photodegradation of the plastic and its composition as it enters the ocean and accumulates in the gyre? (For example, we are amazed to find that the particles of degraded plastic tend to reach a similar size.)
4. Where does the plastic come from and what steps can be taken to control or reduce the risks associated with this situation? What are the economic costs and the economic benefits of controlling or ending the situation, and how do they compare? How much plastic is manufactured, discarded, and recycled? How much of that is likely to go into the ocean? How much of that is likely to float?
5. Could similar situations develop in other places in the oceans? What should we monitor and how? What is happening in the North Atlantic Gyre and the Alaskan Gyre? Use your model to estimate the plastic density in the future in the southern gyres (South Atlantic, South Pacific)?
6. What is the immediate impact of banning polystyrene takeout containers? (See:
http://www.publicceo.com/2009/12/more-cities-ban-polystyrene-takeout-food-containers/) What is the impact over 10–50 years?
7. Any other scientific/technological issue associated with this situation is also acceptable, as long as modeling is an important component of your investigation and analysis.
To clarify your task, focus on one critical aspect of this problem and model the behavior of the important matters or phenomena. Specify the quantities that are of greatest present or future interest to the one aspect you choose to model and analyze. Your ICM report should be in the form of a ten-page team report to an expedition leader who has asked you to help her identify the relevant behaviors of the matters and phenomena under consideration, provide the analysis for impact of the behavior of those matters or phenomena, and advise her on the government’s potential to act on the problem to improve this situation before it worsens.
The following files contain some helpful data:
CountDensity1999-2009.pdf; Moore 2001.pdf; Yamashita 2007.pdf
Here are some suggested papers you can use to inform your model formulation and obtain more data:
Note: As a reminder, it is best to stick to the scientific literature, not the media coverage, for your facts. The mainstream media coverage of this issue has been misleading in many cases. For further explanation, see: http://seaplexscience.com/2009/11/13/millions-billions-trillions-of-scientific-errors-in-the-nyt/
Committee on the Effectiveness of International and National Measures to Prevent and Reduce Marine Debris and Its Impacts (National Research Council). (2009). Tackling Marine Debris in the 21st Century, National Academies Press, Washington D.C.
Dameron, O.J., Parke, M., Albins M.A., and Brainard R. (2007). Marine debris accumulation in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands: An examination of rates and processes. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 54:423–433.
Derraik, J.G.B. (2002). The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: a review. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 44:842–852.
Matsumura, S., and Nasu, K. (1997). Distribution of floating debris in the north Pacific Ocean: sighting surveys 1986–1991. In: Coe, J. and Rogers, D. (eds.). Marine Debris: Sources, Impacts and Solutions. Springer, New York, pp. 15–24.
Moore, C.J., Moore, S.L., Leecaster, M.K., and Weisberg, S.B. (2001). A comparison of plastic and plankton in the North Pacific central gyre. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 42:1297–1300.