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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.

August 5, 2009 — 7:34 pm
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