Following the launch from the San Francisco Bay on September 8, the Ocean Cleanup’s System 001 traveled 350 nautical miles to commence the Pacific Trials.
The trials will last approximately two weeks and are a crucial step before the System 001 heads for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to clean the ocean plastic.
The system consists of a 600-meter-long U-shaped floating barrier with a three-meter skirt attached below. It is designed to be propelled by wind and waves, allowing it to passively catch and concentrate plastic debris in front of it.
“There are many tasks that must be accomplished during the Pacific Trials, but we have identified five main goals for the coming two weeks. Confirming these objectives will provide us with the understanding if the system is up for the challenge it’s set to face in the patch. Should we encounter any issues, it is much easier to tow the system back to shore from here than it would be all the way from the patch,” the Ocean Cleanup said in an update.
“We want to ensure the system can withstand the conditions of the ocean before we tow it all the way to the patch. We will perform checks at the end of the trials for damage. If we observe severe damage, we will then assess if this can be remedied on or offshore.”
Here is the checklist System 001 needs to fulfill at the test site before it can head to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 1 down, 4 to go. pic.twitter.com/cYVxs9KQJR
— The Ocean Cleanup (@TheOceanCleanup) September 18, 2018
The first step is U-shape installation, which has been completed successfully. It is the first time the system is in its intended shape, which is needed to conduct many tests.
This required connecting the closing lines, which help the system maintain its shape and prevent the system from flipping inside out.
It took approximately two days to arrange the system in its operational configuration. With the aid of the Maersk Launcher and the Megamaid, the closing lines were connected from the inside of System 001.
“The installation went very smoothly, and the system seems to be behaving well so far. Configuring the system in its u-shape is the first item from our checklist that we have accomplished, and it directly matches the predicted curvature from engineering models,” the organization added.
The story behind the U-Shape
Step number two is ensuring sufficient speed through water is attained, i.e., making sure the system moves faster than the plastic, which is key to capture the debris.
Next on the checklist is the ability to reorient when wind/wave direction changes. For these tests the system will be towed in various directions against the wind (45, 90 and 180 degrees). When facing different directions, the system should reposition itself facing the plastic again.
Finally, the system needs to have effective span in steady state as it fluctuates based on the conditions of the ocean. It is crucial for the system to stay in a desirable range in order for it to capture and retain plastic.
“We will maintain the u-shape for two weeks. During this time, the system will continue to undergo various additional tests. The crew has already begun testing the system’s orientation in different wind directions and aims to complete these tests tomorrow (September 20),” the Ocean Cleaunp said.
“With one down and four to go, our goal is to achieve all five of these objectives in the next two weeks. We still have much to learn, so we are taking this time to understand as much as possible. If all items can be checked off, only then can we give the go-ahead to begin the journey to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”
The system needs to travel additional 800 miles to reach the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world’s largest accumulation zone of ocean plastics, situated halfway between Hawaii and California.
If all goes as planned, the Ocean Cleanup estimates the first plastic could be collected and returned to land within 6 months after deployment. Once successful, and if the funding is available, the organization aims to scale up to a fleet of approximately 60 systems focused on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch over the next two years.
The Ocean Cleanup projects that the full fleet can remove half of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within five years’ time.