Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The debris front

Day Three off Hilo,
Sam said she was glad that we had left the rough weather behind us as ORV Alguita spent all night motorsailing from the southern face of the Big Island, where new real estate is being made by Madame Pele, the volcano goddess, to the edge of the plankton bloom northeast of Hilo. We arrived at first light and began sampling about 40 miles offshore. We trawled for an hour, then ran northwest along the front for an hour and sampled again. The first two times we did this we caught moderate amounts of plastic mixed with typical planktonic organisms. The third trawl was different. It had a brownish hue and contained more small plankton and more plastic. It seemed that there was a relationship between greater plankton content and more debris. We wondered if the brown hue was indeed caused by a phytoplankton bloom. Perhaps we can ID some of the species in this trawl at the UH Hilo Marine Science Department's wet lab. Tina Chau of KGMB 9 in Honolulu has been following this voyage and our work with the Marine Debris class at the University. She just aired a great special that we saw in the conference room at the University on our small portable TV while writing this blog. Students analyzing samples were interviewed and our findings today made it on air the same night.
Pretty amazing,
Aloha from UH Hilo
Captain Charles Moore

Monday, November 12, 2007

Day 2 off South Point

The Search Continues
Our goal during this cruise was to find cells of debris or a miniature "garbage patch" off the southern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii. We have heard reports that it exists, but that it is quite variable in its location. We believe that this accumulation of debris is feeding into Kamilo Beach, which accumulates an extraordinary amount of trash from all over the Pacific Rim. The Honolulu Star Bulletin just published an article with a picture of Kamilo beach debris which can be viewed at: http://starbulletin.com/2007/11/11/news/story02.html
So far we have not found any areas offshore with high concentrations of debris. Today, only one observation of floating debris, a soap bottle, was made by the crew, and our trawls contained little plastic. Currently, we are headed to the eastern edge of the chlorophyll maximum to sample where debris is expected to accumulate. After that, we will be heading downwind back to Hilo, where Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer will lecture on flotsam Tuesday. Jeff caught a Mahi Mahi today, so we had panko fried mahi for lunch. The volunteers from UH Hilo are turning into great sailors.
Aloha from ORV Alguita

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dear Colleagues,
The crew of six and myself (three students from UH Hilo and Donovan Hoen, writing up the expedition for the New York Times Magazine), have just weathered the roughest conditions experienced aboard ORV Alguita this year. After sampling 50 miles south of the Big Island along the chlorophyll front recommended by Dave Foley (see attached graphic), we beat into 12 foot seas and 35 knot winds under genoa and mainsail back toward the Island so we could lower the genoa and put up the staysail. Waves were breaking over the bow and covering the entire boat from stem to stern. But we got our sample, albeit at the limit of the ability of the manta trawl to collect consistent data. We also sampled in the lee of South Point, which acts as a seive for debris, and found very little plastic there. Last night's sail from Hilo gave spectacular views of Puu O'o's latest eruption. We could see lava shooting up and an orange glow on the side of Mauna Loa. Currently we are heading southeast from the Point to sample the other side of the chlorophyll bloom where debris may accumulate. To quote Dave Foley:"The image (chlorophyll a from the MODIS sensor on NASA's Aqua spacecraft) shows two distinct water masses. I wuld expect collection of material along the edges of those water masses." The green lines in the image indicate those edges. We will see what the manta trawls up tomorrow, and Monday on our way back to Hilo.
Aloha from south of the Big Island in a comfortable 25 knots of wind,
Captain Charles Moore.