Alaska Sea Grant

Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean

Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean

Because of the subtropical gyre in the Pacific Ocean, circulation in the Pacific Ocean is very defined. In the middle of all gyres is located a calm area that is not under the influence of the currents. Debris and flotsam floating in the gyre often gets jettisoned into the middle area of no current after revolving around the gyre. There exists an accumulation of marine debris in the North Pacific subtropical gyre that continues to get bigger each year. Studies have been done on this area that delve into the atmospheric and ocean relationship; research has documented 6 pounds of plastic for every pound of plankton in this area (Moore, 2002).

What materials are accumulating in the gyre? Why?
What atmospheric circulation is responsible for the gyre?
How do general weather circulations in the subtropics aid the gyre and act not to mix the garbage patch out with the rest of the gyre?
What is the origin of most of the garbage? Ships? Land-based?
What technology has been used to study the garbage patch and determine the origination of much of the garbage?

After you investigate the garbage patch and the gyre and find answers to the above questions, your group needs to create a presentation addressing the four points below. You will be assessed using the Ocean in Motion Project Rubric provided to you.
Your presentation should address the following:

  • Which factors driving and directing currents (wind, tides, density (salinity/temperature) and topography) pertain to the garbage patch? Why?
  • Were humans affected by currents, and if so, how?
  • How does the weather in the area of the garbage patch affect the currents?
  • What technology pertains to studying the currents in the area of the garbage patch?


Trashed: Across the Pacific Ocean, Plastics, Plastics, Everywhere

Why is the world’s biggest landfill in the Pacific Ocean?

Surface Ocean Currents

Wind Driven Surface Currents: Gyres Background

Plastics and Marine Debris video 6 min.
The Garbage Patch video

Gorilla in the Greenhouse: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Alaska Sea Grant University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Department of Education and Early Development NOAA