Earth  ID: 4174

Garbage Patch Visualization Experiment

We wanted to see if we could visualize the so-called ocean garbage patches. We start with data from floating, scientific buoys that NOAA has been distributing in the oceans for the last 35-year represented here as white dots. Let's speed up time to see where the buoys go... Since new buoys are continually released, it's hard to tell where older buoys move to. Let's clear the map and add the starting locations of all the buoys... Interesting patterns appear all over the place. Lines of buoys are due to ships and planes that released buoys periodically. If we let all of the buoys go at the same time, we can observe buoy migration patterns. The number of buoys decreases because some buoys don't last as long as others. The buoys migrate to 5 known gyres also called ocean garbage patches.

We can also see this in a computational model of ocean currents called ECCO-2. We release particles evenly around the world and let the modeled currents carry the particles. The particles from the model also migrate to the garbage patches. Even though the retimed buoys and modeled particles did not react to currents at the same times, the fact that the data tend to accumulate in the same regions show how robust the result is.

The dataset used for the ocean buoy visualization is the Global Drifter Database from the GDP Drifter Data Assembly Center, part of the NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory. The data covered the period February 1979 through September 2013. Although the actual dataset has a wealth of data, including surface temperatures, salinities, etc., only the buoy positions were used in the visualization.

This visualization was accepted as one of the "Dailies" at SIGGRAPH 2015.


Visualization Credits

Greg Shirah (NASA/GSFC): Lead Animator
Horace Mitchell (NASA/GSFC): Lead Animator
Leann Johnson (GST): Project Support
Laurence Schuler (ADNET Systems Inc.): Project Support
Ian Jones (ADNET Systems Inc.): Project Support
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

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Data Used:
Ocean Surface Buoys/Various/Global Drifter Database 2/15/1979-9/30/2013
ECCO2 High Resolution Ocean and Sea Ice Model
Note: While we identify the data sets used in these visualizations, we do not store any further details nor the data sets themselves on our site.

This item is part of these series:
Narrated Movies

GCMD >> Earth Science >> Oceans
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Oceans >> Ocean Circulation >> Ocean Currents
SVS >> Hyperwall
SVS >> Science On a Sphere
NASA Science >> Earth
SVS >> Presentation

GCMD keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation: Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version