Congregations of plastic material are generating a new ocean ecosystem at the ocean-atmosphere interface. The cumulative global magnitude of this "TrashPatch" phenomenon is comparable to a continent or larger. Our project proposes a method for defining this global challenge.
The term "plastic" connotes a material capable of being formed into any shape; its adaptability has made it one of the most ubiquitous modern materials. Its low cost has also made it globally abundant, causing a mind-shift that takes this material for granted. Plastics have breached the barriers of solid waste systems and landfills, and have made their way into our oceans. Drawn by water currents and pulled by wind, floating plastics have formed a new oceanographic geography. These ocean-scapes are formed primarily by the “TrashPatches,” thick layers of small plastic particles at the surface level. While still minimally understood, there is growing evidence that the smallest plastic particles are entering the base of our food chain and can alter the carbon dioxide exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere.
The ecological impact of the “TrashPatch” and its micro-climate is to significantly alter the marine environment. The global challenge will be to evaluate its contribution to the environmental changes in ecology, weather and climate. The environmental impact of “TrashPatches” is unquantified and sets an unprecedented territory for investigation.
Our proposal will build bridges among relevant advocate organizations and across academic disciplines by visualizing the “TrashPatches” and how such content impacts the individual at a global scale. The UDL and its team members will incorporate visualization tools, design, engineering and earth science evaluation criteria in a field that has been, until now, principally the realm of oceanographers. This project will explore important relationships that have not been studied before, such as the link between plastic marine debris towards Solid Waste Management, Industry, and cities. And importantly, it will start to visualize possible policy and design solutions. Included with an investigation towards a paradigm shift, in the sense that remediation of the “TrashPatch” will have to consider it as much a resource as liability.