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Studying The Garbage Of The Modern Ocean

During the study, he will also use high-tech "hyper spectral" cameras to photograph ocean coral reefs - now under attack from increased pollution and increased ocean temperatures - to accurately map their health in a non-destructive way.
by Staff Writers
Kingston, Canada (SPX) Jul 10, 2007
Graduate student Bryson Robertson sets sail Sunday from La Paz, Mexico on a unique and potentially life-altering journey in pursuit of his PhD. Over the next three years, the Civil Engineering student from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario will sail around the world to study ocean garbage and the health of coral reefs, documenting among other things the huge amount of debris that washes up daily on even the most remote beaches.

Called the OceanGybe Global Research and Outreach Expedition, it will be a multi-year research project conducted through Queen's Centre for Water and the Environment (CWE). As well as documenting and recording the effects of marine pollution, Robertson will use scientific principles and ocean modeling research tools to study the effects of ocean bathymetry (the oceanic equivalent of topography) on the breaking characteristics of ocean swells.

Robertson's goal, along with brother Ryan and fellow ocean and surfing enthusiast Hugh Patterson, is to raise public awareness about the deteriorating state of the world's coastlines, and to generate action toward creating a more sustainable future.

The environmentally-minded adventurers depart from Mexico in their 40-foot Tradewinds Performance Cruiser on Sunday, July 1 - Canada Day - to begin their three-year journey.

"Our voyage will take us through every major ocean on Earth, to some of the most pristine and untouched coasts, but also to some of the most heavily polluted and destroyed ocean environments," says Robertson, noting that one area they have targeted is the Great Pacific Gyre: an enormous floating garbage dump about the size of Alberta, that is largely made up of plastics.

"By identifying and displaying the vast effects that pollution has on our oceans, and on those who rely upon the ocean for their livelihood, we hope people will start to realize their personal impact and take more care in how they live their lives on a day-to-day basis," he continues.

Robertson, 25, and Patterson, 28, began planning their trip while they studied engineering together at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. But what started as a dream to sail the world's oceans in search of adventure and world-class surfing locations evolved into something much more, after Bryson linked up with Dr. Kevin Hall, head of Queen's Civil Engineering Department and director of the Centre for Water and the Environment. It soon became apparent that the voyage could also provide a platform for some very innovative ecological research.

"With the continual growth of extreme weather events, storms and giant waves, research like this is important to ensure our planners and engineers are equipped with all the knowledge necessary to understand the effects of these events," says Robertson. "For example, the impacts of tsunamis and ocean waves caused by hurricanes will be better understood when they inevitably break."

During the study, he will also use high-tech "hyper spectral" cameras to photograph ocean coral reefs - now under attack from increased pollution and increased ocean temperatures - to accurately map their health in a non-destructive way.

"People have dumped garbage and chemicals into our oceans for decades, with no due thought as to where it ends up and who it influences," says Robertson. "It's time Canadians and international citizens had a complete picture of what they're doing. We hope to inspire them to take better care of their local waters, and to conserve the global waters."

The adventurers' route will take them through the South Pacific island chain, making presentations en route at schools and resorts. The first major destination on the three-year epic is New Zealand. Depending upon winds and other boat issues, they hope to arrive there in November.

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