Cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

A socially active friend of mine had told me about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch a while back.  He is the type of person who is likely to latch on to out-of-the-mainstream causes, some of which require a lot of work to verify.  I only followed the story in the background of my mind for several years, not certain if there was any exaggeration in the statement of the problem.  The subject seems to have moved into the mainstream in more recent times.

We human beings do not realize the extent of the damage that we are doing to the planet just because we do not see a lot of it with our own eyes. We will also willingly deny the role that we play in the process of its destruction.

What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?  From Wikipedia:
“The patch is characterized by exceptionally high relative pelagic concentrations of plastic, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.  Its low density (4 particles per cubic meter) prevents detection by satellite imagery, or even by casual boaters or divers in the area. It consists primarily of an increase in suspended, often microscopic, particles in the upper water column.”

How big is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?  From Wikipedia:
“The findings from the two expeditions, show that the patch is 1.6 million square kilometers and has a concentration of 10-100 kg per square kilometers. They estimate there to be 80.000 metric tonnes in the patch, with 1.8 trillion plastic pieces, out of which 92% of the mass is to be found in objects larger than 0.5 centimeters.”

The reason for my posting of this blog was a mainstream news item that I saw on CNN regarding attempts to try to address the issue.  The project is called The Ocean Cleanup.  They think they are capable of cleaning up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years.  Part of the solution is trying to figure how the best way to recycle the garbage that is captured. Hope it all works, and that we can clean up the mess that we have all made!


The Anthropocene Epoch

The geological time-scale of Planet Earth is classified at the highest level in supereons,  the first of which was the Precambrian.   The supereons break down into eons, then further into eras, periods, and finally epochs.  We live in the Phanerozoic eon of a post-precambrian supereon (that apparently does not have an official name for it today).  According to the experts, we are officially in the Holocene epoch, which began about 11,700 years ago after the last major ice age.  (Interestingly enough, this period of time only represents less than a millionth of the history of the earth.)

Recently, the argument has been raised that we should consider ourselves to be in a new new epoch after the Holocene. This epoch should represent the period of time when the impact of human beings on the earth has become significant and non-reversible.  In the past, epochs were broken down based on times of geological change, but the argument is now being made that one should also consider environmental impacts.  Regarding human beings, these changes probably began to accelerate with the coming of the Industrial Revolution, and the rate of change has only increased since then.  While there is probably no exact moment in time that can be pinpointed as a “turning point”, it is clear that we now cannot turn back our impact on the planet.  (I have argued in the past that all changes take place over some period of time even if some of these changes seem to be instantaneous within the time-frames that we are familiar with.)

Even though it is not officially recognized, people are calling the current period of time in the earth’s history the Anthropocene epoch.

Here is an online presence for an organization dedicated to this concept.

Even the Smithsonian is modifying its exhibition space to devote resources to talking about the human impacts on the earth.

A fundamental theme in the consideration of the existence of a new epoch is that humans have finally managed to change the nature of the planet to the extent that  we cannot ignore our environmental impacts.  The destruction caused is irreversible.   It is a sad consequence of our progress, of our knowledge and technology, of our “civilization”.  What will the post-Anthropocene epoch look like when all is said and done?   Or perhaps we will all be destroyed by some cosmic event that we have no control over and none of this will matter in the long run.  I suppose the post-Anthropocene epoch could still happen due to other reasons.