Scientists are tracking a cargo leak from New York to Norway, revealing how currents spread harmful substances

by Andrew TurnerAnd the Plymouth University

The The closure of the Suez Canal In March by Megaship named Ever Geffen delayed More than 200 ships Loaded with thousands of containers, to serve as a reminder of the scale of the shipping industry and the global fallout when something goes wrong at sea. However, most people are still unaware of how frequently the cargo carried by the massive container ships has never reached the port.

Several thousand containers It is believed to be lost at sea every year – as a result of bad weather, poor stowage, insufficient supervision and even Vessel size Itself. Steel containers quickly sink toward the sea floor, with many of them torn apart under pressure or from collision when they collide with the ocean floor.

If the material in a container is denser than sea water, then its dispersion location will be determined and will be restricted to the sea floor. But materials with a density near or below seawater, including many common plastics, thrive on the ocean surface, where they are often transported thousands of miles to distant shores. at Previous study, And my colleagues have found evidence that such plastics can survive in the ocean for up to 1,300 years.

Our recent study We tracked a spill of Hewlett-Packard inkjet cartridges, believed to have occurred 1,500 kilometers east of New York in 2014. Using social media to communicate with beachgoers, we found that the cartridges had spread south as far as Cape Verde and as far north as the Arctic Circle.

Spills at sea

Most container losses go unreported and undocumented because, at present, there is no obligation to declare lost goods unless they are of a hazardous nature and potentially pose a direct threat to the environment. This means that evidence of payload from lost containers is usually limited to groups of distinct plastic items, which are mainly noticed by regular beach users.

In 1997, for example, more than sixty containers of Tokio Express were lost after a giant wave tilted the ship 60 degrees sideways while it was orbiting the Land’s End in southwest England. One container was filled with nearly 5 million pieces of Lego nautical themed, Which has been along the coast of Cornwall ever since.

Depending on the location of the spill, the cargo that floats to the surface of the sea – which the United Nations estimates includes 15% of all marine litter It provides an opportunity for scientists to study the ocean circulation.

This was the case in 1992 when a container of baby bath toys, including a shipment of rubber ducks, was lost in the central North Pacific. It was later reported by beaches over a range of Thousands of miles away, Allowing scientists to learn about surface water circulation in the North Pacific Ocean.

Then, in 2014, small but distinctive Hewlett-Packard ink cartridges began appearing on the shores of the Azores in the middle of the North Atlantic. My colleague, Tracy Williams, posted calls for more viewing on an international group of beaches on social media, with more than 50,000 members.

Soon there were reports of flooding. Sights were exchanged along the coasts of Western Europe, the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, Bermuda and Florida. Some cartridges were found on the beaches of the North Sea and the beaches of northern Norway.

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This comprehensive dataset of locations and times revealed how floating plastic was transported across the North Atlantic by various currents, with cartridges spread nearly 8,000 kilometers in less than four years at an average drift velocity of 10 cm per second.

Then we used Plastic, And is an oceanographic model, to simulate moving a cartridge from a spill site. The model outputs were very similar to observations made by our “citizen scientists”, but the main inconsistencies highlighted where the model could be improved and how the shore could be integrated into the oceanographic transport simulation.

Oceanic microplastics

After collecting our data, we expanded our study to examine biofouling and weathering of plastic cartridges. Due to its relatively short exposure to the sea, the polypropylene shell for the cartridges has already shown significant degradation – a source Micro plastics We know she is Prevalent in our oceans.

The remaining electronic markings on some of the cartridges also contain potentially dangerous chemicals, including brominated flame retardants and copper. The presence of these marks classifies the spill as being Electronic plasticAnd, as such, cartridges should be regulated under stricter electronic waste regulations.

Regarding spills in general, the International Maritime Organization recently established it Action Plan For the year 2025, it will be considered a mandatory way to advertise plastic trash derived from containers lost at sea. Regulations like this will better stimulate stowage and provide scientists with greater insight into the problem of ocean pollution from spills.Conversation

Andrew TurnerAssociate Professor of Environmental Sciences, Plymouth University

This article was republished from Conversation Under a Creative Commons license. Read the The original article.

Top image: m.mphoto / Shutterstock

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