Monday, April 27, 2015

Using Drones to Find Ocean Plastic?

Hardly a day goes by without someone suggesting a new use for drones. But using them to study ocean plastic? I doubt that that will work well at all.

Glancing at the article, you would think otherwise, especially with a picture like:
Ocean Plastic - NOT!
leading off the article. If the plastic pieces were actually that visible, drones would be helpful.

But the reality of ocean plastic is quite different. A researcher from the Scripps Research Institute recently took a picture from the middle of the eastern Garbage Patch. This is what she saw:
The Middle of the Eastern Ocean Gyre - Where's all the plastic?
Quite a different perspective, isn't it.

This is not a denial of the Garbage Patches and Ocean Plastic. The plastic is there alright. But you have to look closer and concentrate to see it since it looks like this:
What ocean plastic really looks like
It's mostly small particles and not very closely clustered together. Which is most unfortunate, as that dilution prevents the plastic from being recovered.

Unless these new drones have super powerful magnification and a smooth ocean surface, they aren't going to useful at seeing much of any except the big stuff. Certain groups of people are okay with finding just the big stuff, because that can then be used to paint the evocative images of "Garbage Patches" and "Floating Islands" "the size of Texas". But that is not the least bit representative of reality.

Previous Years

April 27, 2011 - Closing the Loop in Biotechnology

April 27, 2010 - Adhesives vs. Rivots

April 27, 2010 - Strange Math

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