Using the Data From Accidents and Natural Disasters to Improve Marine Debris Modeling

Nikolai A Maximenko, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI, United States, Jan Hafner, IPRC/SOEST U. of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI, United States, Amoreena MacFadyen, NOAA, Office of Response & Restoration, Seattle, WA, United States, Masafumi Kamachi, Meteorological Research Institute, Ibaraki, Japan and Cathryn Clarke Murray, PICES North Pacific Marine Science Organization, Sidney, BC, United States
In the absence of satisfactory marine debris observing system, drift models provide a unique tool that can be used to identify main pathways and accumulation areas of the natural and anthropogenic debris, including the plastic pollution having increasing impact on the environment and raising concern of the society.

Main problems, limiting the utility of model simulations, include the lack of accurate information on distribution, timing, strength and composition of sources of marine debris and the complexity of the hydrodynamics of an object, floating on the surface of a rough sea.

To calculate the drift, commonly, models estimate surface currents first and then add the object motion relative to the water. Importantly, ocean surface velocity can’t be measured with the existing instruments. For various applications it is derived from subsurface (such as 15-meter drifter trajectories) and satellite (altimetry, scatterometry) data using simple theories (geostrophy, Ekman spiral, etc.). Similarly, even the best ocean general circulation models (OGCM’s), utilizing different parameterizations of the mixed layer, significantly disagree on the ocean surface velocities. Understanding debris motion under the direct wind force and in interaction with the breaking wind waves seems to be a task of even greater complexity.

In this presentation, we demonstrate how the data of documented natural disasters (such as tsunamis, hurricanes and floods) and other accidents generating marine debris with known times and coordinates of start and/or end points of the trajectories, can be used to calibrate drift models and obtain meaningful quantitative results that can be generalized for other sources of debris and used to plan the future marine debris observing system. On these examples we also demonstrate how the oceanic and atmospheric circulations couple together to determine the pathways and destination areas of different types of the floating marine debris.