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Ocean plastic pollution more widespread

May 3, 21012 — Decades of research into how much plastic litters the sea may have only skimmed the surface. A new study reveals that wind drives confetti-sized pieces of plastic debris deeper underwater than previously believed, more than doubling earlier estimates of the pollutant’s presence in oceans.

“In windy conditions the traditional approach to measuring plastic marine debris captures only a small fraction of plastic pieces,” said Tobias Kukulka, assistant professor of physical ocean science and engineering in the University of Delaware's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. “Our study helps to better understand how much plastic there is and where, as well as the complexity of the ocean dynamics at work.”

Reporting in Geophysical Research Letters last month, Kukulka and co-lead author Giora Proskurowski of the University of Washington said that data collected from just the surface of the water commonly underestimates the total amount of plastic in the water by an average factor of 2.5. In high winds the volume of plastic could be underestimated by a factor of 27.

The paper detailed a new model that researchers and environmental groups can use to collect more accurate data in the future.

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