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Plastic garbage in the ocean: There’s more of it than previously estimated, report says


Tires, plastic bottles and other garbage washed up by the sea litters the beaches in Prestwick, Scotland, on 22 Mar. 2005.


Christopher Furlong

It is likely that scientists have been underestimating the amount of plastic garbage in Earth’s oceans for decades, two researchers argue in this month’s journal of Geophysical Research Letters.

Scientists typically measure the amount of plastic garbage by counting the bits of plastic in water skimmed from the surface, Discovery News reported. However, after noticing that wind can drive plastic deeper into the water, oceanographer Giora Proskurowski, one of the report’s authors, conducted research that calculated that there could be 2.5 to 27 times more garbage in the sea than surface-water sampling has indicated.

Proskurowski led a research team that collected water samples from different layers of water in the North Atlantic Ocean in 2010, LiveScience reported. "The scope of the (plastic debris) problem is not just at the very surface but goes down to 20 meters (65 feet) or so, and that plastic is distributed throughout this layer," Proskurowski told LiveScience.

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Proskurowski’s plastic measuring system, which pulls up plastic debris from as deep as 100 feet, could become the new standard for measuring garbage in the ocean, Discovery News reported. If so, its larger estimates of plastic debris may increase the pressure on policymakers to do something about ocean pollution.

"On this topic, what science needs to be geared toward is building confidence that scientists have solid numbers and that policymakers aren't making judgments based on CNN reports," Proskurowski said in a statement, according to Discovery News.

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