Share

Plastic Garbage Is Turning Into a New Kind of Rock in Hawaii

By Terrell Johnson
Published: June 9, 2014

Something strange has been discovered on the Big Island of Hawaii, and it's not just the trash that washes up along the shore of Kamilo Beach, long considered one of the dirtiest shorelines anywhere in the world.

Scientists from Canada's University of Western Ontario made a stunning find there recently of a new kind of rock they call "plastiglomerate," made from plastic household garbage fused with volcanic rock, sea shells, beach sand and corals.

Thanks to both ocean currents and its location -- the beach is accessible only on foot or with a four-wheel-drive vehicle, making cleanups difficult -- Kamilo catches everything from "derelict fishing gear, including nets, oyster spacer tubes and buoys; food and drinking containers; resin pellets; and abundant multi-colored fragments or 'plastic confetti'."

In a study published by the Geological Society of America, the scientists conclude that the "Frankenrock" probably formed when people camping on the beach threw plastic garbage into their campfires. Melting fuses the plastic, rock and shell fragements and other debris together, though bits of it still stick out as recognizable forks, ropes, toothbrushes and "anything you can think of," according to geologist Patricia Corcoran.

“The article is intriguing and fascinating,” Douglas Jerolmack, a geophysicist with the University of Pennsylvania, told Science Magazine. “If these things can be preserved, then they might be a nice marker around the world of when humans came to dominate the globe and leave behind their refuse in mass quantities.”

Corcoran and her fellow researchers found plastiglomerates on more than 20 sites across Kamilo Beach, and they believe they could probably found on beaches around the world. About a billion tons of plastic have been thrown out since the 1950s, Canada's Weather Network notes, adding that it will likely take as long as 500 years for some forms of it to biodegrade.

"All around the world where there’s trash being openly burned in mass quantities, you can imagine there are even larger melted plastic deposits," Jerolmack added in his interview with Science.

That the story is being reported this week carries added significance. That's because Sunday is World Oceans Day, the anniversary recognized by the United Nations since 2008 as a day to reflect on the beauty of the oceans on which humanity depends for its very survival.

Read the full story at the Geological Society of America.

 

MORE: Hawaiian Beach Sunsets

Waialua Bay sunset, Oahu (puuikibeach/Flickr)


Featured Blogs

Subtropical Storm May Still Develop Off Southeast Coast This Week

By Dr. Jeff Masters
May 4, 2015

Models are still suggesting that a moisture-laden disturbance off the southeast U.S. coast could develop into a subtropical cyclone later this week, although there is large uncertainty about how strong it might be and where it might go

The Great California Storm of April 19-23, 1880

By Christopher C. Burt
April 11, 2015

Could a single big late–season storm have a significant impact on the California drought? A 'Hail Mary' storm event? Normally by this time of the year (April 10th) California would have already received at least 90% of its rainy-season precipitation total and any additional rain or snowfall would have little impact so far as the current drought is concerned. However, back in late April 1880, one of the most intense storms ever to pound the state occurred. Here are the details.

Please check out the new homepage and tell us what you think!

By Shaun Tanner
April 2, 2015

The development team here at Weather Underground has been hard at work producing a new homepage! Please take a look at the sneak peek and tell us what you think!

Meteorological images of the year - 2014

By Stu Ostro
December 30, 2014

My 9th annual edition.

2013-14 - An Interesting Winter From A to Z

By Tom Niziol
May 15, 2014

It was a very interesting winter across a good part of the nation from the Rockies through the Plains to the Northeast. Let's break down the most significant winter storms on a month by month basis.

What the 5th IPCC Assessment Doesn't Include

By Angela Fritz
September 27, 2013

Melting permafrost has the potential to release an additional 1.5 trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, and could increase our global average temperature by 1.5°F in addition to our day-to-day human emissions. However, this effect is not included in the IPCC report issued Friday morning, which means the estimates of how Earth's climate will change are likely on the conservative side.