Greenpeace needs remedial oceanography

Eric found this Greenpeace animation, which tries to demonstrate trash accumulation in the North Pacific Gyre. It’s really pretty – too bad the oceanography is entirely wrong. Why is the California Current sweeping through the Central Valley? (Does this mean LA has finally been swept out to sea?) The Alaska Current is not actually over the land of Alaska. And there’s an entirely novel gyre over by Japan – the Kuroshio Current has run away to Kamchatka. Compare:

Still of very very wrong Greenpeace animation:

Actual correct currents (courtesy Ocean Motion):


Oh, Greenpeace – I kind of love your costumes and your earnestness and your enthusiasm. I’m glad you’re out there lobbying and protesting. But Greenpeace, when you’re writing about the North Pacific Gyre you can’t just put the ocean currents every which way. Having the Kuroshio (the Gulf Stream of the Pacific) going the wrong way is particularly harmful to your goal, since it is the Kuroshio that brings plastics from Asia into the gyre. And when your incorrect figure is the second google hit for “North Pacific Gyre Map” – well, that’s way more embarrassing than being the guy in the whale suit.


9 Responses to Greenpeace needs remedial oceanography

  1. Eric says:


    Those are supposed to be ocean currents? Maybe someone grabbed predominant air currents or high and low weather cells for the animation???

    I love how the currents coming down through the Bering Straights return through the mountains of British Columbia and what I assume they intend to be the California Current spends most of it’s time between Sacramento and Reno.

    At least they are trying.

  2. Yeah, I think somebody accidentally grabbing high and low pressure systems instead of currents is a good guess. Trying is good, but major errors like this probably hurt Greenpeace more than the cute animation helps.

  3. kevin z says:

    Dude, this is a serious f-up. They need to lay off the hippie juice and get their stuff together if they want to be taken seriously as an organization that wants to be respected by several different audiences.

    That kind of error is unforgivable and misleading.

  4. I felt bad mocking them without telling them, so I posted a polite comment on their forum. We’ll see what happens.

    And Kevin – hippie juice? hehehehehehe.

  5. Eoin Dubsky says:

    Hi Miriam,
    The animation is crude, that’s true. I replied to your post on the Greenpeace Forum, but here it is again for completeness:

    I work in Greenpeace, and I’ve run your comment by one of our scientists who worked aboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza to highlight the issue of plastic debris in the world’s oceans. Here’s what Adam says:

    The animation is very crude. However, we felt that it served the purpose of demonstrating how plastic makes it’s way to the Trash Vortex.
    The real situation with surface currents is much more complex, indeed so complex that it’s finer points are not well understood. Largely influenced by the wind, surface currents vary both with local weather conditions and throughout annual cycles (climatic weather patterns). Modeling the gyre has been the subject of scientific publications however the detail involved goes well beyond that which is useful for giving people a general idea of the phenomenon- which was our intention.
    [edited for cut-and-paste error – MG]

  6. Eoin – Thanks very much for stopping by and answering my question. I’m not a physical oceanographer and I may be missing something, but I still don’t understand why it is useful to Greenpeace to depict the currents by Japan this way. The Kuroshio is an important source of plastic to the North Pacific (see Yamashita & Tanimura 2007 in Mar. Pollut. Bull.) but depicting it going the wrong way makes it appear that trash would be transported to the southwest instead of entering the North Pacific. This doesn’t seem to be a useful generalization. Thanks again for your reply.

    [cross-posted at Greenpeace forum]

  7. Eric says:

    Just saw from the ORV Alguita website an image of the high and low weather cells for the North Pacific (where they are currently documenting the plastic gyre) It bears a striking resemblance to the GP map.

  8. Eric says:

    It stirkes me that they are specifically speaking about the stable high pressure weather regime in the pacific and refering to that as the gyre, while we are coming at this from an oceanographic point of view and so when one says the “Pacific Gyre”, we naturally think of the ocean current system, and the resulting gyre, instead.

  9. Shanty says:

    Richard III only has one matinee on Sunday, July 17th. The Directors mulautly decided that they would rather have more nighttime performances of Richard and more daytime performances of As You Like It.

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