What's in the Pacific Ocean?
October 22, 2020 10:58 AM   Subscribe

What will we encounter on our walk* across the Pacific Ocean?

I figure the walk will be more interesting if we pass a flock of godwits occasionally or something. So I'd like to set up the spreadsheet that's tracking our progress to let us know about them as they come up.

We're taking the direct route, so I figure we probably won't run into any islands. I'm guessing there's a Great Pacific Garbage Patch en route. Where approximately? How long will it be in view? How often can we expect to encounter lots of wildlife? What types of wildlife might we come across and where or when? How many storms and where/when? When will we cross the date line? Any noteworthy underwater features? How far along our walk* are they? Anything else we should know about?
posted by aniola to Science & Nature (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It doesn't appear to me from the map on this page that you'd go through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and if you did, you wouldn't see much, because "it's mostly these tiny plastics that you can't immediately see with the naked eye."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:23 AM on October 22, 2020

It's ok if we can't see a thing when we go by. If something is microscopic or on the ocean floor, that's fine.
posted by aniola at 11:26 AM on October 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Presuming your "direct route" looks something like this, you may see the Farallon Islands off to your left as you depart SFO (or you may be closer to Point Reyes on the right; not clear from where in San Francisco you're departing). You'll be at sea level, though, so your horizon edge will be ~3 miles away, so unless it's within 3 miles north or south of your route, whether you'd see it or reference it would depend on how much above sea level said thing stuck out.

I can't tell how many miles along your path the International Date Line is, though it looks like you cross it at an interesting juncture where it bends ...
posted by Pandora Kouti at 11:34 AM on October 22, 2020

Re: Pacific Garbage Patch:

Going by the image in this article (associated YouTube video) and the "direct flight" path in Google Maps, as best I can tell you won't be going through the main concentration of the patch, so you'd likely see isolated pieces of trash rather than a dense mat.

My short search didn't give me the specific dimensions, but this blog post shows it to be as big as western Europe plus a fair whack of eastern Europe.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:34 AM on October 22, 2020

posted by cardboard at 11:52 AM on October 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

You might see a few cargo ships and tankers.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:56 AM on October 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ok so using this page, the arc between San Francisco and Tokyo intersects the 180 degree line at 48° 12′ 06″ N (48.201667), which if you stick it into google maps is really close to where the international date line bends, like Pandora Kouti pointed out...close enough that I would just say the International date line is at 180 degrees for this exercise unless someone wants to do more math. [side note: midpoint of the SF-Tokyo ark is 48° 38′ 59″ N, 172° 17′ 03″ W so math checks out...]

After more Great Circle math I get International date line intersects with the travel path ~2925 miles from San Francisco.
posted by lemonade at 12:58 PM on October 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have never written an app before, but I really (really!!) want to try now...I think combining something like the daily location lat/long with this bathymetric chart, so you know how deep you are each day, and combine that with ocean zones and this incredibly cool deep sea visualization would be awesome...and i'm having trouble finding them as a collected set, but species range maps would be interesting too.
posted by lemonade at 1:44 PM on October 22, 2020 [5 favorites]

Once, I had a student who was a sea captain, and who had crossed the Pacific Ocean at least once, I don't remember the details. One interesting thing he told me was that vast stretches are almost empty of life. He hated the big plastic vortex and campaigned towards cleaning it up, but he also said there is little else there. The plants, the fish and the sea mammals are mostly closer to land. Some parts of the ocean are like a desert.
posted by mumimor at 2:02 PM on October 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

it might take a little work to narrow down coordinates close to the route, but shipwrecks!
posted by lemonade at 2:08 PM on October 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sooty Shearwaters migrating. And Bar-Tailed Godwits.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:05 PM on October 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Maybe the enigmatic Bristle-Thighed Curlew.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:08 PM on October 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

Pelagic bird listings for the North Pacific. You could contribute your sightings as you go to the Seabird Tracking Database.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:12 PM on October 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Maybe a sunfish!
posted by Glinn at 3:31 PM on October 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

JACKPOT!!!! I found a huge data set of seabird records from USGS (with occasional mammals), and after much inexpert database manipulation managed to extract this list:

Within ~7 miles of the team's current location of 38.77N, 124.32W, have been sighted the following:
Black-footed Albatross
Cassin's Auklet
Dall's Porpoise
Fork-Tailed Storm-Petrel
Horned Puffin
Humpback Whale
Northern Fulmar
Northern Fur Seal
Pelagic Cormorant
Pink-Footed Shearwater
Pomarine Jaeger
Red Phalarope
Rhinoceros Auklet
Sabine's Gull
Sooty Shearwater
Unidentified Bird
Western Gull
posted by lemonade at 7:59 AM on October 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Oh I got confused with 18 million open tabs, it probably wasn't me who found it...gingerbeer, nicely done finding the seabird database, it's fantastic! There are over 1.24 million records of various sightings between 1973-2019, birds and mammals, amazing resource.
posted by lemonade at 9:32 AM on October 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

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