There is one in the Western Pacific and another in the Eastern Pacific. Researchers are focusing on the one that is about 1,000 miles off California's coast.
Until now, the principal researchers have determined how much of the plastic out in the Pacific is from observation from boats. This new aerial expedition will provide greater detail on how much plastic needs to be rounded up and taken to shore.
A major step toward cleaning up a huge patch of plastic floating in the Pacific is underway this week, operating out of Moffett Field. Surveillance flights are going to one of the patches off the California coast. To get early readings on how much plastic needs to be recovered, we got to board the aircraft to learn how this is a big step toward clean-up.
"In 2 hours, we spotted over 1000 large plastic objects. It's much worse than we expected" pic.twitter.com/wO6MNV78P9— The Ocean Cleanup (@TheOceanCleanup) October 3, 2016
The converted C-130 Hercules, dubbed "Ocean Force One," is back from one of two flights set for this week to do a low-speed, low-altitude survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge debris field made up of discarded fishing nets and assorted plastic buoys and containers, about 1,000 miles off the California coast.
"It's worse than we thought," said Ocean Cleanup Founder Boyan Slat. "And again, this underlines the urgency of why we need to clean it up."
The 22-year-old is the Dutch inventor and entrepreneur behind a campaign to clean up 150 million pounds of trash, about half of the total, in a decade.
This week's mission will give his team a better sense of the volume and weight of the plastic waste, using an imaging system called LIDAR.
The sensors in the LIDAR system help researchers create a 3D image of the objects they're seeing on the ocean's surface. We have some of the first aerial photos taken. The 3D images will take longer to process.
"There were a lot of different sizes of objects out there, it is amazing to see," said Aerial Expedition Observer Leila Fouda. "You have your giant, giant ghost nets. And then you have your smaller containers."
A boom containment system is being developed to collect the debris for recycling. The first wave of cleanup is expected to start about a year from now.
A group of young environmental science students was invited to learn more about the project, and they've found a new role model in Slat.
"We want an up swell of people, young people, all over the world working on this problem of the oceans," said 12-year-old environmental science student Charley Peebler.