Sunday, December 19, 2010

Deconstructing a Winter Storm

So the last several weeks have been weird at the beach. When the storms are their most violent, the flotsam is nonexistent. When the weeks are the calmest, litter runneth over. What gives?

Well, by chance, I found a big clue in another blog.

5 Gyres is a group of scientists & marine adventurers, with a twist. They raise awareness about ocean pollution by actually getting out in the oceans and documenting it. One gyre at a time, they're proving to a skeptical world that every last corner of our planet is infected by the plague of plastic waste. And that we have to do something about it.

In November they set sail from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, across the South Atlantic Gyre to Cape Town, South Africa. En route they set out scores of trawls to capture flotsam. Sadly, every single trawl brought in plastics - even in the middle of the ocean, 1500 miles from land.
Sad, eye-opening, and a blog that's VERY worth reading from beginning to end. A pretty epic adventure.

But for my purposes, one part especially hit home. Early in their voyage they hit days of horrible weather - raging wind & seas. And guess what? All that energy in the ocean? It pushes things down in the water column. Their trawls still found plastic, but it was almost invisible on the water's surface.

So maybe when huge storms rise in the Gulf of Maine, all that energy does the same thing - pushes floating bits down toward the seafloor, where they have a hard time washing in to shore?

The other possibility is that they wash in to shore just fine, but are quickly buried by the same kind of brute force that can do this.
That's not supposed to happen
After all, I've pulled out plenty of three-foot-long fishing rope scraps that only had 2-3 inches exposed. And I've watched something as light as a dry old leaf stay put while Mother Nature's winds piled sand on top.
If it can happen to a leaf...
So what's happening at Bay View beach when a storm comes in? Probably, as always, a combination of both of the above -- along with a dozen other things. And as I've shown, my understanding of the whole shebang is... limited. But at least I'm in good company. The best minds in the world are only now starting to unlock the mysteries of how oceans work, and how important their health is to life as we know it.

It's great to be along for the ride.

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