Transition paths of marine debris and the stability of the garbage patches

P. Miron, F. J. Beron-Vera, L. Helfmann, P. Koltai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We used transition path theory (TPT) to infer "reactive"pathways of floating marine debris trajectories. The TPT analysis was applied on a pollution-aware time-homogeneous Markov chain model constructed from trajectories produced by satellite-tracked undrogued buoys from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Global Drifter Program. The latter involved coping with the openness of the system in physical space, which further required an adaptation of the standard TPT setting. Directly connecting pollution sources along coastlines with garbage patches of varied strengths, the unveiled reactive pollution routes represent alternative targets for ocean cleanup efforts. Among our specific findings we highlight: Constraining a highly probable pollution source for the Great Pacific garbage patch; characterizing the weakness of the Indian Ocean gyre as a trap for plastic waste; and unveiling a tendency of the subtropical gyres to export garbage toward the coastlines rather than to other gyres in the event of anomalously intense winds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number033101
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Mathematical Physics
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Applied Mathematics


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