Sunday, May 11, 2014 by: PF Louis
Tags: ocean pollution, plastics, seafloor
(NaturalNews) “What you see is what you get” doesn’t apply to how we view the ocean. The only litter one can observe is what’s on the surface. Unfortunately, the ocean’s surface covers a vast underwater topography at great depths that rivals the earth’s surface.
And it’s where the ocean surface trash is collected, making it look as though it were never where eyes once saw. Thus the illusion of ocean purity is maintained.
Modern marine exploration advances and computer technology enable this veil of illusion to be not only pierced but mapped according to ocean floor litter density. Deep water submarine cameras and other deep water submersibles transmit images to vessels on the surface.
Electronic sensing devices from those or similar vessels can map out the topography’s 3D layout to determine what litter is going where and its sources. What’s underwater mimics the topography of the planet above water: continental slopes and shelves; seamounts, banks, and mounds; submarine canyons; ridges; and basins.
All of the equipment and man-hours for this research requires a lot of funding. But a group of 16 EU marine and oceanography scientists from Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium and Germany pooled funding resources among several European private parties, NGOs and government agencies to get the job done.
Their study was called “Marine Litter Distribution and Density in European Seas, from the Shelves to Deep Basins.”
The research, authored by lead researcher Christopher K. Pham of Portugal’s University of the Azores introduces the fact that “an estimated 6.4 million tonnes of litter entering the oceans each year, the adverse impacts of litter on the marine environment are not negligible.”
Then he proceeds with “plastics are by far the most abundant material recorded. … Plastics are a source of toxic chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins that can be lethal to marine fauna.
“Furthermore, the degradation of plastics generates microplastics which, when ingested by organisms, can deliver contaminants across trophic [relating to feeding and nutrition] levels.”
The research employed “remotely operated vehicles (ROV), manned submersibles or towed cameras” as well as old-fashioned trawling methods to explore the nearby Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the Arctic oceans.
They produced 588 on-site explorations. But they needed the assistance and cooperation of the EU-FP7 project HERMIONE, the UK’s Mapping the Deep project and others to come up with the extensive mapping of sea floor litter possible.
The 32 sites ranged in depth from 35 meters to 4,500 meters, or almost 15,000 feet. The deepest basin was in the middle of the Atlantic. The over 500 types of litter found varied according to the site location and whether it was trawled (dragging large nets) or viewed remotely.
Usually, sea floor canyons contained the highest density of litter. But no matter how or where, plastic was the most prevalent.
You may wonder, as I did, how all that plastic sinks to an ocean floor. The stuff that floats drifts long enough to degrade and then sink. The drifting aspect was a challenge for this mapping project.
But lesser-known pre-production plastic pellets, or “nurdles,” manage to get their way through existing wastewater filters and find their way through inland waterways and into the oceans. Synthetic textile fibers also break down into microplastics as well.
An earlier study determined that these microplastics adversely affect a very basic form of sea life known as sea worms or lug worms and nicknamed the “earthworms of the sea.” This bottom of the food chain affects other sea organisms up that food chain.
The ocean as a dumping ground for rubbish, especially with plastic, was an invisible issue until recently. But it contributes to the haunting aspect of extinction along with the more obvious visible signs.
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