Ocean Cleaning Device Succeeds in Removing Plastic for the First Time
An enormous floating device designed by Dutch scientists for the non-profit Ocean Cleanup successfully captured and removed plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the company announced Wednesday, as CNN reported.
Ocean Cleanup has been hard at work on creating a device to attack the plastic waste crisis for seven years, by creating a device that captures plastic in its fold like a giant arm, according to Business Insider. The company announced that it was able to capture and hold debris ranging from large cartons, crates and abandoned fishing gear — or "ghosts nets," which are a scourge to marine life — to microplastics that are as small as one millimeter, according to an Ocean Cleanup press release.
"Today, I am very proud to share with you that we are now catching plastics," Ocean Cleanup founder and CEO Boyan Slat said at a news conference in Rotterdam, as CNN reported.
The system's success in capturing microplastics came as a welcome surprise since microplastics tend to fall to the ocean floor rather than float on the surface, according to the press release. Since microplasitcs tend to sink, Ocean Cleanup focused on large pieces of plastic.
Slat posted a picture on Twitter of collected debris along side a forsaken wheel.
"Our ocean cleanup system is now finally catching plastic, from one-ton ghost nets to tiny microplastics! Also, anyone missing a wheel?" Slat wrote.
Our ocean cleanup system is now finally catching plastic, from one-ton ghost nets to tiny microplastics!— Boyan Slat (@BoyanSlat) October 2, 2019
Also, anyone missing a wheel? pic.twitter.com/Oq0rkXO3TH
The Ocean Cleanup device is a U-shaped barrier that drops a net below the surface. As the current moves, the net traps faster moving objects that float into it. Fish, however, are able to swim beneath it, according to CNN.
Slat first presented the concept of a giant barrier near the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in a TEDx talk when he was 18 years old. But the project has been slowed by some spectacular failures that Slat and his team learned from. Last year, a design flaw stopped the barrier from holding onto the plastic it captured and a 59-foot section of the barrier disconnected from the device. In its next attempt, the design team noticed that plastic was floating over the top of a cork line that was supposed to stabilize the system, as Business Insider reported.
The team also noticed that the barrier, known as System 001/B was picking up speed from the ocean currents that outpaced the plastic litter. Therefore, after some rethinking and some upgrades, the device was slowed down by a parachute-anchor. That allows faster moving plastic to float into the barrier. After the parachute-anchor was on, the team fixed the corkline so very little plastic was able to pass over the top of the barrier, according to Ocean Cleanup's press release.
"Our team has remained steadfast in its determination to solve immense technical challenges to arrive at this point," said Slat in the statement. "Though we still have much more work to do, I am eternally grateful for the team's commitment and dedication to the mission and look forward to continuing to the next phase of development."
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is twice the size of Texas, is a swath of plastic debris brought together by the ocean currents and kept in formation by a whirlpool of currents, as The Guardian reported. Ocean Cleanup now wants to scale up the project so it can hold plastic for a year before collection is necessary. It has the goal of removing half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The Ocean Cleanup said in its press release that it will now start on its next iteration, System 002, a full-scale cleanup device that will endure rough ocean conditions and retain the collected plastic for long periods of time between collections. Once the plastic is collected, it will be returned to land and processed for recycling.
633 Divers Break Record for World’s Largest Underwater Cleanup https://t.co/rwdw7vuFG0— Robb Edwards Ⓥ (@RobRobbEdwards) June 17, 2019
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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