Wednesday, February 20, 2008

72 hour countdown

Our noon position: Latitude 35 19.77 North Longitude 125 50.314

As the photo above shows, we're donning our foul weather gear – our days of shorts and tanks seem a distant memory, while the lure of hot showers, and fresh produce become a close reality…

The questions about solutions continue - we continue musing as we approach land, contemplating the work ahead. Changing behavior is a monumental undertaking. And eliminating plastics from our lives would be impossible – plastic packaging touches just about everything we consume. Nor are we suggesting that all plastics are bad – in the medical, aerospace, and even ironically the boating industry, plastics are an invaluable material. The problems arise with our inefficient, excessive consumption, and our highly flawed plastics recycling system. The concept of using durable, petroleum plastics – designed to last for thousands of years, to say, carry our groceries home, or seal a sandwich for an hour, is ludicrous.

So, in answer to your question Daharja, disposable plastics are one of the biggest problems, one we can dramatically reduce by replacing single use disposables with reusable items. A few products you can banish from your consumer repertoire:
  • Water bottles – a big one. We see plastic bottles everywhere, as well as their ubiquitous sidekick caps – these we even see in seabirds stomachs. The quality of tap water is often superior to that of bottled water anyway, so both your pocketbook the ocean are better off if you fill your stainless steel water bott le (link to klean kanteen) with tap water.
  • Plastic bags – not just the bags you use to tote your groceries home, avoid the produce bags as well. Bring your own.
  • Plastic toys for children, disposable utensils, excess packaging – we could keep listing indefinitely, instead, here are a few approaches you can try on:
  1. Avoid disposables altogether by bringing reusable containers to coffee sh ops, farmers markets, and restaurants.
  2. Limit wasteful packaging – purchase products in bulk.
  3. Discard the notion that recycling plastics as currently practiced is a viable solution to the issue. Our plastic recycling system is fraught with problems - confusing, highly inefficient, and possibly more damaging than helpful in some cases. More about this to come.
Now a few words from our crew. Here’s Jeff, to answer his father’s question about colder water temperatures and the ocean’s specific gravity:

We actually made really good time yesterday so I’m assuming the noon position from the day before was accidentally posted, but I don’t know what day that was so the best your going to get is our current position right now at 1940 hours Feb 19th which is 35 09.756N 124 45.678W. Our current water temp is 15.8 Celsius and the air temp isn’t a whole lot warmer than that, so yes, warmer clothing had become a necessity.

As for the relationship between seawater's specific gravity and temperature, there is a correlation and as water cools it does become slightly denser. However, this changes as water gets within a few degrees of its freezing temperature (remember sea water freezes at a slightly lower temperature than freshwater because of the dissolved solids i.e. salts), at that point the hydrogen bonds between water molecules start to take on a more crystalline form and organize in a manner that makes the m less dense than their liquid state, which is why ice floats. The temperatures we experienced in the middle of the gyre ranged from low 20s to high 17s Celsius so a 2-3 degree drop as we approach the coast really doesn’t provide enough of a change to make any real difference. If anything a slightly more dense sea would have the effect of making plastic objects float a little higher in the water, but the effect would be negligible when put into perspective with the other changes that occur as you travel from the oligatrophic gyre ocean water to the nutrient rich cold water upwelling that feeds the west coast of North America. That isn’t to say that sea surface temperature doesn’t provide valuable information to someone looking to model the movement of plastic or project areas of high density or residence time. In fact, the 18 degree isotherm that seems to correlate with increased primary production in the north pacific was also a major component of the DELI (debris estimated likelihood index) that has helped in beginning to understand how long lived material at the surface of the ocean such as plastic behaves and coalesces.

And here’s Joel to answer a few:

Kaisa and the students from West Lafayette wondered about what its like to spend so much time at sea:
In 2004 I spent four months at sea collecting marine debris in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. If you’re doing something you love the time goes by fast. Plus it helps if you can get along well with the other people on the boat and have a good cook. You might think that each day would be similar to the one before it, but when you are collecting samples and diving almost every day you’ll see new and unique things every day.

In answer to another question: It is more proper to call starfish “sea stars”. Not only do they not live in the sky with stars but they aren’t fish. They are echinoderms. So from now on you can call them sea stars and avoid a lot of confusion.

Hi Mom I’ll call you when we get back on land on Friday.

A couple more posts from the ORV crew and we’ll be wrapping up our journey. Tomorrow we’ll let you know about the crews future plans – we’ll all take what we learned on this voyage out into the world…
Aloha and gracias from the captain and crew of the ORV Alguita.

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