School Email Exchange

What do you expect to find out?

Posted on October 12 2012

Question submitted by King Philip Regional High School

Mike Gil and Tommy Wootton prepare the neuston net for deployment off the science deck.

The scientists aboard the SSV Robert C Seamans will be estimating the concentration of plastic in the North Pacific subtropical gyre and documenting the ability of wind and waves to drive floating plastic debis below the surface.  They will also identify the type of plastic and the organisms living on plastic debris.  Greg Boyd, a research assistant on board, has a Raman spectrometer that can identify types of plastic.  So far he reports most of the plastic we have collected has been high density polyethylene (HDPE), polypropylene (PP) and polystyrene (PS).  You can find out the types of plastics you use by looking at the number stamped on the bottom of most plastic items.  Are the plastic items you have at home made of the same type of plastic that we have identified on the ship?

One aspect of this research will ultimately allow the scientists to determine if plastic can spread invasive species to new areas.  Some of the plastics and organisms collected will be further studied ashore in different labs. Sightings of Japanese tsunami debris will be recorded to assist NOAA in determining where and when the debris will reach the west coast of the U.S. or Hawaii.

The neuston net is towed along the surface of the water for thirty minutes as it collects floating plastic and organisms that live on the surface of the ocean.