Simulating the spread of plastics in the Mediterranean

© © MercatorOcean

Clear images often speak louder than words. To illustrate the phenomenon of plastic dispersal in the Mediterranean basin, Mercator Ocean created a very interesting simulation as part of an educational film made during the Tara Mediterranean expedition.

Presenting this project are Fabrice Messal, in charge of the Mercator Ocean multimedia project, and Xavier Bougeard, responsible for Tara’s educational program.

Why was this video made?

Fabrice Messal: At Mercator Ocean, we produce analyses and forecasts of the physical and bio-geochemical state of all the world’s oceans. The direction and strength of currents are some of the many variables that we calculate which allow us to produce this kind of simulation.
We’ve previously made comparable simulations in other regions (North Atlantic and North Pacific) for other projects, but on the same topic of plastic pollution. When we showed these animations to Romain Troublé, secretary general of Tara, and Xavier Bougeard, responsible for educational activities, they immediately saw the educational potential of animation! It can help Tara teams to explain the phenomena of plastic dispersal in the Mediterranean.

What does this animation show?

Fabrice Messal: We initially placed 60 points at the mouths of major rivers that flow into the Mediterranean. These points are supposed to represent plastic particles. We study their spread with a daily flux of points, and we run our program to simulate the state of the Mediterranean Sea for a year.
Xavier Bougeard: It illustrates the idea that plastic pieces carried by rivers like the Rhone, Po and the Nile will end up in the Mediterranean. Pieces of plastic will concentrate over the years in this sea which serves as a receptacle for all the discharged waste. We observe that depending on the currents, the dispersal is not the same: waste from the Nile scatters very little and pollution remains on the Egyptian coast. In contrast, plastics from the Rhone are spreading everywhere in the Mediterranean and also on the coasts.


How to make use of this video?

  •     As a simple illustration of the phenomenon of pollutants dispersing in the ocean. It’s easy to make young people understand that throwing their waste into the environment leads to pollution far beyond their home.
  • Study the film from which the simulation is extracted: in the film a scientist explains the  phenomenon.
  • Teachers can use the video directly with their students. How do they interpret the colors, the movements? What conclusions and solutions do they find?
  • Work on the concept of simulation. Students can look for other examples of simulations in their own lives, such as those used for weather forecasting or even in “The Sims” video game for example!Interview by Hélène Marchand

Useful Links:

To view the simulation of plastic dispersal, click here.

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