Ocean Pollution

New project aims to hunt marine plastic from space

Written by Oceanographic Staff

The ESA (European Space Agency) has recently started investigating how to track marine plastic litter from space through testing plastic pollution within a realistic scale model of the Atlantic Ocean.

It is estimated that around 10 million tonnes of plastic are being annually dumped in the world’s oceans. However, even though we know how much plastic ends up in the sea on average, we don’t know where most of the polluting material ends up and where it goes.

To tackle this widespread issue, the ESA is currently looking how we can control plastic litter better through using space-based technologies through dumping marine plastic litter into a realistic scale model of the Atlantic Ocean. Through this, the organisation hopes to analyse and control marine pollution better, while tracking its extent. Peter de Maagt, an ESA antenna engineer said: “Our goal here is to answer a few fundamental questions.”

The model was constructed at the Deltares research centre inside the Atlantic Basin Facility in the Netherlands. Here, scientists can create realistic deep water waves through special wave generators. By using bottles, marine nets, Styrofoam balls and other plastic usually found in the ocean, the researchers will test how the material disturbs the ocean wave patterns, while the satellite will measure that very disturbance until January 2022. The ESA hopes that this experiment will give them a new way to monitor marine plastic litter with satellites that are already in space. Otherwise, “a decision could be made to produce a dedicated satellite”, according to de Maagt.

He went on to say: “The initial results look promising, meaning that under certain circumstances the teams did receive useable signals, but there is a lot of analysis still to be performed. We aim to use the time between this test campaign and the follow-up, due to take place early next year, to identify gaps in knowledge that need further focus.”

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Photography courtesy of Unsplash.

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