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Northwest passage discovered at last by 28,800 peripatetic rubber duckies

Drudge had a headline today about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — a floating stream of stray plastic junk hundreds of miles long — and the scientists that follow it. They’re looking for the impact all this drifting shit might have on marine life, but there are happier uses for our seagoing garbage.

Flotsametrics is the term coined by oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer for tracking ocean currents by following floating garbage. He isn’t the first to do it, but he came up with a neat word and a book and stuff.

Also, an especially lucky spill. In January of 1992, a consignment of plastic bath toys fell off a Chinese ship into the Pacific — frogs, beavers and turtles and, of course, rubber duckies. Durable plastic, designed for floating, perfect. Soon, their packaging rotted away and the rubber duckies began their long journey.

A lucky few swam South and were picked up in Hawaii, South America and other sunny climes, but the bulk went North…Alaska, the Northwest Passage, Greenland. They spent some time frozen in icepack. Down the East Coast of the US. Last I heard of them, they’d crossed the Atlantic and were headed for the beaches of Britain — June of 2007, fifteen years after they started. A few are picked up at each landing. The duckies have now faded to white.

Ebbesmeyer tracked the toys mostly to test a computer program written by Jim Ingraham of NOAA. I had a DOS version of this program years ago, and it was way cool to watch the little junk trails swirl around and around in the sea.

Ebbesmeyer’s website, Beachcombers’ Alert, has more on this and many other kinds of fascinating floating crap.


Comment from Jakeman
Time: August 5, 2009, 8:12 pm

Weasy, I hate to go all schmaltzy on you, but you gave me a flashback to one of my favorite childhood books, Paddle-to-the-Sea; a little boy’s canoe carving that makes it from the Great Lakes to the ocean. My granddad was an editor for McGraw-Hill, and had the most fantastic library, including every Holling C. Holling book. (Granddad was also one of those guys that could do the NYT crossword, in felt-tip pen, in about 30 minutes.) Anyway, I can’t thank you enough for the little trip down memory lane, or Memory River as it were.


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 5, 2009, 8:27 pm

Awww…schmaltz is good, Jakeman.

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by messages in a bottle and other found objects. Sadly, I grew up a thousand miles from the sea, but I threw my share of bottled literature into the Tennessee River.

Comment from Waterhouse
Time: August 5, 2009, 9:48 pm

Talk about flashbacks, Jakeman, your description just prompted a years-unaccessed memory of watching the short film Paddle-to-the-Sea in elementary school.

I remember being fascinated by the film. Didn’t even know it was a book until now.

Comment from scubafreak
Time: August 6, 2009, 12:20 am

Meanwhile, did anyone catch Nancy Pelosi complaining to the press that the dissenters attending the Healthcare Townhall meetings were all carrying swastikas?


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 6, 2009, 6:48 am

Whoa, that’s a powerful fantasy life San Fran Nan has got herself, innit?

Comment from Jakeman
Time: August 6, 2009, 6:56 am

As Ace points out, the astonishing thing is that Nancypants is trying to use “carrying swastikas” as some sort of proof that astroturfing firms have hired them. A real rocket surgeon, she is.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 6, 2009, 8:11 am

Playing with fire, they are. Nothing moves people to rage like being completely powerless and then to be made voiceless, as well.

Comment from jwpaine
Time: August 6, 2009, 1:25 pm

What a coinkydink. One of my favorite books is Atlas Reloaded.

Comment from Allen
Time: August 6, 2009, 3:00 pm

So that’s where my rubber duckie went. Barbara Boxer has been exposing her inner lunatic lately too. I had lunch with her once, long story. She is crazier in everyday life then she appears on TV. On that day I lost all hope for the American political system.

I’d be afraid to even let her play with a rubber duckie. Jeebus, advise and consent.

Comment from tawny
Time: August 6, 2009, 5:02 pm

Did anyone have John Hughes in the dead pool?


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 6, 2009, 5:07 pm

I don’t think so, Tawny. I had to follow the item to see who John Hughes was…

Comment from Old Grouch
Time: August 6, 2009, 5:54 pm

Monster duck attacks France.

Comment from tawny
Time: August 6, 2009, 6:18 pm

I guess the weasel avoided the 80’s brat pack movies, lucky because as enjoyable as they were for teens at the time they have spawned some of the most annoying actors ever.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 6, 2009, 6:40 pm

I kind of avoided the 80’s completely. Just kind of dropped off the face of pop culture. Don’t know how it happened.

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