Monday, 20 July 2009

The Latest Neologism

Neologisms are newly-coined words that didn't exist until someone had the insight to boldly go where no man has gone before, word-wise. Here's one that turned up in an interview on one of the science podcasts I frequent, adding yet another compelling title to my painfully long list of 'must reads':


This one has the virtue of summing up nicely what is going on, without being too cutesy, and was evidently coined by the author who is an actual ... flotsametrician or whatever: Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer, Ph.D. oceanographer who built a network of volunteer beachcomers who gather data on ocean currents by reporting in what they find washed ashore on their local beaches. Ebbesmeyer shot to fame (at least among science nerds) when he discovered that a shipping container full of Nike sneakers had been washed overboard in the Pacific Ocean, broke open, and released its massive cargo of readily identifiable floating data points. As these began washing ashore, he was able to isolate a specific model that made up that shipment, and the dates and places of their arrivals on shorelines worldwide have proven a terrific source of new data on surface ocean currents. Not long after, the same thing happened again to a shipping container full of rubber duckies. As he likes to put it, he would never have been able to get permission to release such a collection of items on purpose.

So now I'm really trying to make time to get through the my stack of library books to clear the decks, since I've just GOT to get my hands on his book Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How One Man's Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science.

(Okay, maybe 'revolutionized' is overselling it a bit - let's wait and see how the book plays out...) Ebbesmeyer is also a leading expert on oceanic gyres - the surface regions that act as "sinks" for floating rubbish such as plastic bags, lost fishing nets, refrigerators(!) etc., trapping them in slowing turning whirlpools of clutter that boggle the imagination with their scale (THREE times the size of Texas?!) and pose a real threat to marine life with their bright colors and chewy textures.

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