Recently, researchers have discovered that plastic garbage littering the surface of the ocean may be disappearing. But where is this plastic garbage disappearing to? The researchers believe that the trash could be breaking down into tiny, undetectable pieces due to exposure to waves and radiation from the sun. However, scientists say those fragments are stable and durable enough to last for hundreds of thousands of years. Alternatively, the garbage also may be traveling into the ocean’s interior.

“The deep ocean is a great unknown,” co-author Andres Cozar, an ecologist at the University of Cadiz in Spain, said in an email. “Sadly, the accumulation of plastic in the deep ocean would be modifying this mysterious ecosystem – the largest of the world – before we can know it.”

After analyzing 3,070 samples of seawater from around the world, the researchers found that there has been no significant increase in the amount of plastic in the surface water of the world’s oceans since the 1980s. They found that discover strange because based on the drastic increase in plastic produced since the 1970s, there should have been millions of tons of garbage in the oceans.

Members of Cozar’s research team identify a few clues for future science detectives to follow up on. They found far fewer fragments of plastic debris five millimeters and smaller than their computer models predicted. This discover led them to conclude that it’s probably the smallest pieces of plastic that are making their way to deeper into the water.

Another theory suggests, small fish, particularly lanternfishes, may be eating some of these small plastic pieces and therefore breaking them down even more.

Angelicque White, an ocean ecologist at Oregon State University who was not involved with the study mentioned in an email saying, “Plastic is widely distributed throughout all ocean basins, but the concentrations are really patchy from spot to spot and not spots are driven by ocean circulation.”

These are just a few possible answers to the missing plastic question, and the researchers note that there are probably others.

New problems like this steer scientists a little closer on the marine debris problem and helps them figure out where to focus our efforts.

Source: Mother Nature Network