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How large is the great Pacific garbage patch?

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This Nature Scientific Reports article gives an update on the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is estimated to be four to 16 times larger than previously estimated: 1.6 million square kilometers.

While the article does show the patch along with latitude and longitude lines (above) and the Hawaiian islands, it doesn’t provide much help communicating how large it is with familiar reference objects. (Incidentally, our research has found that people seriously underestimate the size of Hawaii).

How large is 1.6 million square kilometers? It’s about

  • As big as Alaska
  • One-fifth as big as the contiguous United States
  • Half as big as India
  • As big as Iran

Open to suggestions for how to put into perspective the estimated mass of the plastic: 80,000 metric tons.


Lebreton et al. (2018). Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic. Scientific Reports.

h/t Stefano Puntoni


  1. cubegeek says:

    80,000 metric tons is not a great deal of waste. Here’s an example of one of many landfills in Los Angeles. You can see here: http://www.lacsd.org/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?blobid=2317 that you could put millions of tons of solid and liquid waste into the area the size of a golf course. More info is here: http://www.lacsd.org/solidwaste/swfacilities/landfills/palos_verdes/default.asp This is a luxury community.

    April 7, 2018 @ 4:03 pm

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