Q. Dear Twig: Here's what my friend Steve said at lunch: that there's a great big pile of plastic garbage floating in the middle of the ocean. True?
A.: True. And I'm blue. It's in the northern Pacific Ocean. And it's way more than a pile. A scientist says the used-up, thrown-out, built-up plastic spans an area as big as Texas. Another puts the total weight of the floating rubbish at 3 million tons — equal, for example, to 77 billion empty 1-liter soda bottles.
People call it several names: the Pacific Trash Vortex. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It's in a part of the ocean called the North Pacific Gyre ("jire"; rhymes with "tire"): a big huge region where the currents spin clockwise. The trash collects in the gyre's calm center.
Why is all this junk a problem? Fish get tangled in it. Seabirds eat it by accident and it fills up and clogs up their guts. The plastic breaks down and lets loose toxic chemicals, and fish and birds ingest those, too. Plus it looks like ... well, what you don't want to look at.
Read more here for starters: http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/1103/1103_feature.html.
P.S. Examples of the vortex trash? Bags, cups, nets, lines, floats, wrappers, bottles, bottle caps.
Notes: The link is to "Trashed" by Charles Moore in Natural History magazine. Sources also included "Altered Oceans" by Kenneth R. Weiss and Usha Lee McFarling in the Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/news/local/oceans/la-oceans-series,0,7842752.special ; and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's Marine Debris Program, http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/. The North Pacific Gyre occupies 10 million square miles. The pop-bottle figure comes from these calculations: 3 million tons equals 2.7 trillion grams. An empty 1-liter soda bottle weighs about 35 grams. Divide 2.7 trillion by 35 and you get (but might not want) 77 billion empty 1-liter soda bottles.
"Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick," published by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences - specifically, by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Extension, the research and outreach arms, respectively, of the College - is a weekly column for children about science, nature, farming and the environment. It's written at a 4th-grade reading level. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt Knebusch, CommTech, OSU/OARDC,1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691, email@example.com, (330) 263-3776. Online at http://extension.osu.edu/~news/archive.php?series=science.