Read More: Live Science
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is getting denser. The enormous plastic soup floating in the vast North Pacific spans more than 617,000 square miles (1.6 million square kilometers), and its density is now between four and 16 times greater than previous estimates, scientists have found. Researchers made the discovery by looking at the accumulation of plastic trash in the Pacific between California and Hawaii. They found that the patch has more than 87,000 tons (79,000 metric tons) of plastic in it. That equates to 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, or roughly 250 pieces for every person on the planet, the researchers said. Moreover, the concentration of tiny pieces of plastic, known as microplastics, has exponentially increased since the 1970s, like a person adding more pulp to a glass of orange juice. In the 1970s, the patch housed 2.28 lbs. of plastic per square mile (0.4 kilograms per square kilometer), but by 2015, that number had grown to 7.02 lbs. of plastic per square mile (1.23 kg per square km), the researchers found. The researchers also looked at the size of the plastics in the water. While debris larger than 2 inches (5 centimeters) across accounted for more than 75 percent of the total weight of the plastics, there were far more microplastics, which represented the majority of the 1.8 trillion pieces inside the patch, said Laurent Lebreton, the lead researcher of the Ocean Cleanup Foundation and the lead author of the study. The foundation aims to develop technologies that can extract the plastic from the garbage patch.