Tuesday, January 15, 2008

ORV Alguita preparing for sail off

On January 22nd, the ORV Alguita will set sail from Hilo, Hawaii for the North Pacific Gyre, on a month long research expedition to study marine debris concentrations. This will be Algalita's 8th Pacific crossing since founder Captain Charles Moore began studying the Gyre in 1999.

This next voyage will cover new territory, and may possibly yield new findings....

A primary focus will be to follow up on the results of a recent paper by Bill Pichel, Dave Foley, and Tim Veenstra - all three of whom have provided valuable information and resources for previous Algalita expeditions.

The paper, Marine Debris Collects Within the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone, debuts the DELI concept - the Debris Estimated Likelihood Index - which purports to predict where large debris accumulations occur, with a special focus on ghost nets.

During the winter months, currents tend to accumulate debris, which reaches its maximum concentration in the spring, before summer current patterns disperse it again.

The reported areas of high debris concentrations have thus far been studied only from air, in March and April. Algalita's coming voyage will venture further west than ever before, investigating possible concentrations North of Hawaii, and just East of the International Date Line.

It may be that the areas of the North Pacific Gyre with the highest concentrations of marine debris have yet to be seen or studied.

Additionally, this expedition will study deeper regions, venturing into the "mixed layer" to see how much plastic is found near the limit where light penetrates and photosynthesis takes place. Below this area, down around 500 meters, carbon (and possibly plastic particles) mixed into the ocean exists in what "oceanographers call the 100-year horizon . . . beyond which the water will not come into contact with the surface for a century. That duration is the international standard for commercial carbon-storage projects." (Science 30 Nov, 2007, p.1370)

By studying this region, Algalita will begin investigating the possibility of buoyant plastic particles' ability to affect atmospheric carbon sequestration, an issue of global significance.

To follow ORV Alguita's progress, check back here - images and updates will be posted on this blog over the next month.

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