Barents Sea will have floating garbage patch in 50 years

The existing five large garbage patches in the world. In a few decades there can be one more, in the Arctic. (Map from Wikipedia)

Plastic garbage has made its way into every ocean in the world. New research shows that it doesn’t matter where in the world plastic garbage enters the ocean, it can end up in any of the ocean basins.


Researchers at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science have conducted an investigation on how floating garbage patches form as a result of ocean currents.

There are currently five large garbage patches in the subtropical oceans. “Our research suggests a smaller sixth garbage patch may form within the Arctic Circle in the Barents Sea, although we don’t expect that to appear for another 50 years,” research leader Dr Erik van Sebille says to the centre’s web site.

The research showed that, globally, humans have put so much plastic into our planet’s oceans that even if everyone in the world stopped putting garbage in the ocean today, giant garbage patches would continue to grow for hundreds of years.

The researchers have shown for the first time that giant oceanic eddies, some up to 50 kilometres across, help shift material between garbage patches that may be thousands of kilometres apart in different oceans. ‘This means that garbage from any country can end up in any one of these garbage patches. It tells us that no single country is responsible. Ocean garbage is an international problem that requires an international solution,’ Dr van Sebille commented.

To achieve their results, the researchers used data from drifter buoys, which are part of the Global Drifter Program, to determine the movement of surface ocean currents. The program releases hundreds of drifter buoys into the ocean every year.