Modern technology assists seafarers in ways that were unimaginable just decades ago.  Weather satellites and meteorological models provide excellent real-time information about weather conditions, as well as reliable forecasts days out.  State of the art satellite data are used to delineate the Vendée Globe’s Antarctic Exclusion Zone, a region in which drifting pack ice poses a collision risk to the competitors. Radar technology allows sailors to identify objects in the vicinity of their path, as long as the objects sit high enough on the sea surface to be detected.  However, despite these technological advances, submerged objects remain a very real hazard to sailors in the Vendée Globe.
By recent accounts, these objects are not detectable by instrumentation or by the sailor’s eye – at least not in time to avoid them – yet they are large enough to cause race-ending damage that might also put the sailor’s life in danger. What these objects might be is anybody’s guess. Debris in the oceans ranges from large cargo containers lost during transport, to lost or abandoned fishing gear, to debris from natural disasters, to everyday trash that fragments over time into microscopic particles. The number of such objects, it can be reasonably assumed, has increased over time simply based upon increased transport and fishing activities, and increased consumption producing increasing amounts of trash. No robust estimates exist of the amount of large floating debris in the world’s oceans, but based on the reports from this year’s Vendée Globe, it is not certainly not a negligible amount.
Question submitted by Wes, Edmonton, Canada