What Scientists Learned From 29,000 Rubber Duckies

Rubber duckies aren’t typically renowned for their contribution to scientific discovery… that is until 29,000 rubber duckies spilled into the ocean on this day in 1992.

The duckies fell off a ship carrying cargo from China to the United States in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. 10 months and 2,200 miles later the ducks starting showing up on the shores of Alaska. Many of them remained caught in a circular current in the North Pacific known as the Subpolar Gyre.

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As years go by, and these rubber duckies complete orbits around this gyre, some float out with other currents. A sizable bunch of the duckies float northward through the Bering Sea and on into the Arctic Ocean.

Some 11 years later, duckies make landfall in Great Britain.

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Data from the journey of these rubber duckies has helped scientists better understand currents and flows, and the various cycles they go through. While this story certainly has its charm, it has also brought attention to the issue of plastic floating in the world’s oceans. It is estimated that some 10,000 shipping containers fall into the ocean each year. Debris gets caught in these gyres in the Pacific Ocean and wind up gathering into huge garbage patches.

While the amount of plastic garbage floating around certainly isn’t trivial, it is uncertain how much is really floating around out there. Some estimates have said there is a patch the size of Texas or even twice the size of Texas. Other data suggests its really only about 1% the size of Texas.

In either scenario, there’s enough garbage out there to warrant greater action to prevent further pollution of our planet’s oceans.