Golf Ball Degradation Stages

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  After observing the collected 40,000 golf balls, we recognized evidence of physical, and biological degradation. In seawater golf balls are slightly negatively buoyant, which causes them to be easily displaced and tumbled underwater and in the surf zone. The oceans movement via tides, swells, and currents is responsible for  wearing the synthetic materials off a golf ball and into the ocean.  Essentially the ocean acts as a massive rock tumbler, which causes the golf balls to slowly wear down over time. The byproduct of this degradation is a tiny micro plastic released into the ocean off the surface of the golf balls. In the process of our research study we sorted golf balls into five different stages in order to understand distribution patterns, where new balls are entering,  where golf balls seem to aggregate, and estimate how long it takes for a golf ball to break down. Below are photos of the golf ball break down process.


Stage one golf balls are fresh off the golf course, they still exhibit a polyurethane gloss and there are no abrasions to the surface of the ball


Stage two golf balls have lost all of the polyurethane gloss, and paint is only left in the dimples of the ball. These balls are responsible for 26.9% of our total. 


Stage three golf balls have lost all gloss, and paint however dimples are still left on the ball. These balls make up 23.4% of our total.


Stage four golf balls have lost all gloss, paint, and dimples. These balls only make up  8.5% of our total and are typically found in large aggregations of older balls


Stage five golf ball are the most variable. This category includes any ball that has an exposed core. While this stage only makes up 4% of the total, they are the most environmentally harmful, in some cases releasing up to 10 grams of micro plastics to the environment.

Further data related to these golf ball stages ( amount of microplastics lost to environment, distribution results, etc. ) has been collected and written up in my research paper and will be available once it has been published.