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Concept: Great Pacific Garbage Patch


Ocean plastic can persist in sea surface waters, eventually accumulating in remote areas of the world’s oceans. Here we characterise and quantify a major ocean plastic accumulation zone formed in subtropical waters between California and Hawaii: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). Our model, calibrated with data from multi-vessel and aircraft surveys, predicted at least 79 (45-129) thousand tonnes of ocean plastic are floating inside an area of 1.6 million km2; a figure four to sixteen times higher than previously reported. We explain this difference through the use of more robust methods to quantify larger debris. Over three-quarters of the GPGP mass was carried by debris larger than 5 cm and at least 46% was comprised of fishing nets. Microplastics accounted for 8% of the total mass but 94% of the estimated 1.8 (1.1-3.6) trillion pieces floating in the area. Plastic collected during our study has specific characteristics such as small surface-to-volume ratio, indicating that only certain types of debris have the capacity to persist and accumulate at the surface of the GPGP. Finally, our results suggest that ocean plastic pollution within the GPGP is increasing exponentially and at a faster rate than in surrounding waters.

Concepts: Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Marine pollution, North Pacific Gyre, Project Kaisei


Microbial communities can subsist at depth in marine sediments without fresh supply of organic matter for millions of years. At threshold sedimentation rates of 1 millimeter per 1000 years, the low rates of microbial community metabolism in the North Pacific Gyre allow sediments to remain oxygenated tens of meters below the sea floor. We found that the oxygen respiration rates dropped from 10 micromoles of O(2) liter(-1) year(-1) near the sediment-water interface to 0.001 micromoles of O(2) liter(-1) year(-1) at 30-meter depth within 86 million-year-old sediment. The cell-specific respiration rate decreased with depth but stabilized at around 10(-3) femtomoles of O(2) cell(-1) day(-1) 10 meters below the seafloor. This result indicated that the community size is controlled by the rate of carbon oxidation and thereby by the low available energy flux.

Concepts: Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Microbiology, Sediment, Oceanography, Cellular respiration, Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Sedimentary rock


Plastic debris has been documented in many marine ecosystems, including remote coastlines, the water column, the deep sea, and subtropical gyres. The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG), colloquially called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” has been an area of particular scientific and public concern. However, quantitative assessments of the extent and variability of plastic in the NPSG have been limited. Here, we quantify the distribution, abundance, and size of plastic in a subset of the eastern Pacific (approximately 20-40°N, 120-155°W) over multiple spatial scales. Samples were collected in Summer 2009 using surface and subsurface plankton net tows and quantitative visual observations, and Fall 2010 using surface net tows only. We documented widespread, though spatially variable, plastic pollution in this portion of the NPSG and adjacent waters. The overall median microplastic numerical concentration in Summer 2009 was 0.448 particles m(-2) and in Fall 2010 was 0.021 particles m(-2), but plastic concentrations were highly variable over the submesoscale (10 s of km). Size-frequency spectra were skewed towards small particles, with the most abundant particles having a cross-sectional area of approximately 0.01 cm(2). Most microplastic was found on the sea surface, with the highest densities detected in low-wind conditions. The numerical majority of objects were small particles collected with nets, but the majority of debris surface area was found in large objects assessed visually. Our ability to detect high-plastic areas varied with methodology, as stations with substantial microplastic did not necessarily also contain large visually observable objects. A power analysis of our data suggests that high variability of surface microplastic will make future changes in abundance difficult to detect without substantial sampling effort. Our findings suggest that assessment and monitoring of oceanic plastic debris must account for high spatial variability, particularly in regards to the evaluation of initiatives designed to reduce marine debris.

Concepts: United States, Ocean gyre, Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Marine debris, North Pacific Gyre


Plastic marine pollution in the open ocean of the southern hemisphere is largely undocumented. Here, we report the result of a (4489km) 2424 nautical mile transect through the South Pacific subtropical gyre, carried out in March-April 2011. Neuston samples were collected at 48 sites, averaging 50 nautical miles apart, using a manta trawl lined with a 333μm mesh. The transect bisected a predicted accumulation zone associated with the convergence of surface currents, driven by local winds. The results show an increase in surface abundance of plastic pollution as we neared the center and decrease as we moved away, verifying the presence of a garbage patch. The average abundance and mass was 26,898particles km(-2) and 70.96gkm(-2), respectively. 88.8% of the plastic pollution was found in the middle third of the samples with the highest value of 396,342particles km(-2) occurring near the center of the predicted accumulation zone.

Concepts: Ocean gyre, Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Pacific Ocean, South America, Ocean, Equator, Mile, Nautical mile


Climate change has prompted an earlier arrival of spring in numerous ecosystems. It is uncertain whether such changes are occurring in Eastern Boundary Current Upwelling ecosystems, because these regions are subject to natural decadal climate variability, and regional climate models predict seasonal delays in upwelling. To answer this question, the phenology of 43 species of larval fishes was investigated between 1951 and 2008 off southern California. Ordination of the fish community showed earlier phenological progression in more recent years. Thirty-nine percent of seasonal peaks in larval abundance occurred earlier in the year, whereas 18% were delayed. The species whose phenology became earlier were characterized by an offshore, pelagic distribution, whereas species with delayed phenology were more likely to reside in coastal, demersal habitats. Phenological changes were more closely associated with a trend toward earlier warming of surface waters rather than decadal climate cycles, such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and North Pacific Gyre Oscillation. Species with long-term advances and delays in phenology reacted similarly to warming at the interannual time scale as demonstrated by responses to the El Niño Southern Oscillation. The trend toward earlier spawning was correlated with changes in sea surface temperature (SST) and mesozooplankton displacement volume, but not coastal upwelling. SST and upwelling were correlated with delays in fish phenology. For species with 20th century advances in phenology, future projections indicate that current trends will continue unabated. The fate of species with delayed phenology is less clear due to differences between Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models in projected upwelling trends.

Concepts: Climate, Physical oceanography, Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Climate change, Global warming, Climate pattern, Ocean currents, California Current


Tropical south-western Pacific temperatures are of vital importance to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), but the role of sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the growth of the GBR since the Last Glacial Maximum remains largely unknown. Here we present records of Sr/Ca and δ(18)O for Last Glacial Maximum and deglacial corals that show a considerably steeper meridional SST gradient than the present day in the central GBR. We find a 1-2 °C larger temperature decrease between 17° and 20°S about 20,000 to 13,000 years ago. The result is best explained by the northward expansion of cooler subtropical waters due to a weakening of the South Pacific gyre and East Australian Current. Our findings indicate that the GBR experienced substantial meridional temperature change during the last deglaciation, and serve to explain anomalous deglacial drying of northeastern Australia. Overall, the GBR developed through significant SST change and may be more resilient than previously thought.

Concepts: Earth, Coral reef, Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Australia, Great Barrier Reef, Last Glacial Maximum, Sea surface temperature, James Cook


We investigated compositional relationships between bacterial communities in the water column and those in deep-sea sediment at three environmentally distinct Pacific sites (two in the Equatorial Pacific and one in the North Pacific Gyre). Through pyrosequencing of the v4-v6 hypervariable regions of the 16S ribosomal RNA gene, we characterized 450 104 pyrotags representing 29 814 operational taxonomic units (OTUs, 97% similarity). Hierarchical clustering and non-metric multidimensional scaling partition the samples into four broad groups, regardless of geographic location: a photic-zone community, a subphotic community, a shallow sedimentary community and a subseafloor sedimentary community (⩾1.5 meters below seafloor). Abundance-weighted community compositions of water-column samples exhibit a similar trend with depth at all sites, with successive epipelagic, mesopelagic, bathypelagic and abyssopelagic communities. Taxonomic richness is generally highest in the water-column O2 minimum zone and lowest in the subseafloor sediment. OTUs represented by abundant tags in the subseafloor sediment are often present but represented by few tags in the water column, and represented by moderately abundant tags in the shallow sediment. In contrast, OTUs represented by abundant tags in the water are generally absent from the subseafloor sediment. These results are consistent with (i) dispersal of marine sedimentary bacteria via the ocean, and (ii) selection of the subseafloor sedimentary community from within the community present in shallow sediment.

Concepts: Bacteria, RNA, Ribosomal RNA, Ribosome, Great Pacific Garbage Patch, 30S, Ocean, Pelagic zone


Climate-driven environmental change in the North Pacific has been well documented, with marked effects on the habitat and foraging behavior of marine predators. However, the mechanistic linkages connecting climate-driven changes in behavior to predator populations are not well understood. We evaluated the effects of climate-driven environmental variability on the reproductive success and foraging behavior of Laysan and Black-footed albatrosses breeding in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands during both brooding and incubating periods. We assessed foraging trip metrics and reproductive success using data collected from 2002-2012 and 1981-2012, respectively, relative to variability in the location of the Transition Zone Chlorophyll Front (TZCF, an important foraging region for albatrosses), sea surface temperature (SST), Multivariate ENSO Index (MEI), and the North Pacific Gyre Oscillation index (NPGO).

Concepts: Hawaii, United States, Physical oceanography, Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Pacific Ocean, Hawaiian Islands, Island


Atmospheric rivers (ARs) exert major socioeconomic repercussions along the US West Coast by inducing heavy rainfall, flooding, strong winds, and storm surge. Despite the significant societal and economic repercussions of these storms, our understanding of the physical drivers responsible for their interannual variability is limited, with different climate modes identified as possible mechanisms. Here we show that the Pacific-Japan (PJ) teleconnections/patterns and the East Asian subtropical jet (EASJ) exhibit a strong linkage with the total frequency of ARs making landfall over the western United States, much stronger than the other potential climate modes previously considered. While our findings indicate that the PJ pattern and EASJ are the most relevant climate modes driving the overall AR activity, we also uncover heterogeneities in AR tracks. Specifically, we show that not all ARs making landfall along the West Coast come from a single population, but rather that it is possible to stratify these storms into three clusters. While the PJ pattern and EASJ are major drivers of AR activity for two clusters, the cluster that primarily affects the US Southwest is largely driven by other climate modes [El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the Atlantic meridional mode (AMM), the Pacific-North America (PNA) teleconnection pattern, and the North Pacific Gyre Oscillation (NPGO)]. Therefore, important regional differences exist and this information can substantially enhance our ability to predict and prepare for these storms and their impacts.

Concepts: United States, Physical oceanography, Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Storm, Tropical cyclone, Wind, Monsoon, West Coast of the United States


Here we report concentrations of pollutants in floating plastics from the North Pacific accumulation zone (NPAC). We compared chemical concentrations in plastics of different types and sizes, assessed ocean plastic potential risks using sediment quality criteria, and discussed the implications of our findings for bioaccumulation. Our results suggest that at least a fraction of the NPAC plastics is not in equilibrium with the surrounding seawater. For instance, ‘hard plastic’ samples had significantly higher PBDE concentrations than ‘nets and ropes’ samples, and 29% of them had PBDE composition similar to a widely used flame-retardant mixture. Our findings indicate that NPAC plastics may pose a chemical risk to organisms as 84% of the samples had at least one chemical exceeding sediment threshold effect levels. Furthermore, our surface trawls collected more plastic than biomass (180 times on average), indicating that some NPAC organisms feeding upon floating particles may have plastic as a major component of their diets. If gradients for pollutant transfer from NPAC plastic to predators exist (as indicated by our fugacity ratio calculations), plastics may play a role in transferring chemicals to certain marine organisms.

Concepts: Chemistry, Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Atlantic Ocean, Chemical substance, Plastic, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Marine debris