Last night on my watch the wind was audible. Like a cacophonous convention of witches, all shrieking at once. Watching the wind speed was like a game; Rich and I would cheer the wind on. It vacillated between 35 and 52 knots. Sea Dragon sailed at 6 knots with only a small sail up in the front. It's amazing to think of the power of the wind like this: a 43 tonne ship moved at 8 miles an hour only from the resistence of the rigging and about 30 square feet of canvas. At this wind speed it ceases to matter if it's raining or not. Water is airborne always. Waves continue to break over the boat sending spray that accelerates as the wind picks it up, pixelating it and shoving it across deck in explosive sheets. Crossing an ocean by sail is no joke, as the ocean constantly confronts you and wears on you and it takes a training in the mind to find beauty in the ferocity. One must transcend her own condition, the cold, the wet, the bruises and look at her for all her glory. Her raw, intense power. It must strike awe in you, for if it doesn't, then you'll just find misery. For me, to bring my mind to this place of wonder is at times difficult, but to do so is to touch the hand of god herself.
But seeing the pollution in our trawls and again doing the mental math of where we are, and where this plastic trash is, astonishes the senses physically, aesthetically, morally, and philosophically. It's like finding an antifreeze bottle in outerspace. Oh industry wonks! We can't recycle our way out of this hell! Your product is in fragments in the middle of nowhere in pieces! Quit the bait and switch, our liquid mother can't take much more! Your wonder material is scattered across the earth like poision absorbing poision! Let's look beyond next quarter's earnings and quit buying PR. Do something now damnit! Admit your folly!
This morning the barometric pressure is varying somewhat wildly from hour to hour which means we're passing through very tight isobars of low and high pressure. For now, it's on the climb which means gusty winds until it stabilizes. But I saw a patch of blue in the sky for a moment about as big as a pocket knife hole in a blanket. But it's something. The wind, too, has fallen a bit, gusts now are only to about 35 with an average in the mid 20s. Still a lot of wind, yes, but relatively speaking this is an improvement. We're going on seven days of this. We haven't been able to get the cabin very dry because all hatches are battened down. It's damp and humid. Below deck it's warm and constant cleaning ensures that bacteria doesn't grow in the moisture.
Our course is taking us a bit farther south than we had anticipated. Our entire trajectory is based on one of our advisors, Maximenko's, model for the South Atlantic accumulation zone. The gyre is created by the rotating dominant high pressure systems in each of the oceans, but like the wind, they move a bit. Not in a one to one fashion; water is a thousand times denser than wind, so the gyre will react to metric wind changes sluggishly. But from a wind perspective, the high pressure system here is at a much lower latitude than normal.
Still the science work continues unabated. Even in heaving seas, we're dedicated to getting a solid transect as we can apply vectors later for sea state and wind to make an educated guess on the volume of plastic in this new gyre. We've discussed sampling at lower depths in the upcoming expeditions, using a trawl to capture plastic as it stratifies in the water column due to increased sea state. This technique was used by SEA Education in their summer mission to the North Atlantic and hopefully Giora's model due to be published in a forthcoming paper will help us determine concentrations of plastic a lot more accurately. This paper is extremely important to the science of plastic pollution; it will show once and for all that calculating density and volume by mere surface trawling is only one piece of the picture. The ramifications of it are staggering; plastic pollution in the known gyres could be a hundred times worse than the current data indicates.
But to my astonishment and chagrin, even in these heaving seas our surface trawls are still finding a higher concentration of plastic to biomass in the samples. Even in this horrendous sea state. If only the sea were calm; I wonder what we'd find. I wonder what this gyre would reveal to us. That's what's so amazing about this voyage: no one knows. No one has ever studied this area before.
Let's hope the pressure stabilizes and I will let you know in full detail. At this rate however, we won't have the dramatic photographic evidence until the second transect in January which is an equally important mission. But for now we carry on, inching our way towards Africa, battered but with a strength of character and spirit informed by our mission, never whispering die and still shouting onward!
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Date Posted: November 22, 2010 @ 3:55 pm Comments Off
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