Keynote Seminar (Joint Maths-Eng): Prof Erik van Sebille (Imperial College London)


JCMB, 5327


Wednesday, January 25, 2017 - 16:00 to 17:30

Dispersion and accumulation of plastic litter by ocean currents and eddies

University Talks Link:

This event is jointly organised by Maths and Engineering

Ocean currents and eddies carry floating plastic litter from coastlines into the infamous garbage patches in the centres of the gyres. However, the time scales and pathways on which this happens are unknown. In order to assess the impact of the plastic, it is key to know where it gets carried through vulnerable ecosystems.

In this talk, I will first discuss how tracks of satellite-tracked drifting buoys can be used to create a Markov model of dispersion at the surface of the ocean. I will show that this simple model accurately simulates the formation of the garbage patches, and can be used as a quick and easy tool to assess pathways of floating stuff.

I will then introduce more complicated models of passive particulates in the ocean, based on a Lagrangian description of the flow field from high-resolution models. While Lagrangian particle tracking is widely used in oceanography to track tracers, here the challenge is to make the virtual particles actually ‘behave’ like plastic.

Dr Erik van Sebille ( is a Lecturer in Climate Change and Environment at the Faculty of Natural Sciences, The Grantham Institute for Climate Change, Imperial College London. Erik is an oceanographer and climate scientist, investigating the time scales and pathways of the global ocean circulation. His research focuses on how currents and eddies in the ocean transport heat and nutrients, as well as marine organisms and plastics between different regions of the ocean. Prior to joining Imperial College:

  • BSc/MSc in Physics from Utrecht University 
  • PhD in physical oceanography at Utrecht University in 2009
  • Postdoc at University of Miami from 2009 to 2011
  • DECRA fellowship at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia from 2011 to 2015

Event Contact Name: 

Ton van den Bremer and Prashant Valluri

Event Contact Email: