Technologies for Observing and Monitoring Plastics in the Oceans

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IEEE OES Initiative
2020 Cascais Workshop
2019 Brest Workshop
Oceans 2019 Town Hall

Plastics in the oceans pose a mounting existential threat to life in the oceans and on land, including human life, and technologies to observe, measure and monitor the flow of plastics into, and within, the oceans are urgently needed in support of mitigating the threat.

Remote sensing of floating plastics in the aquatic environment

Shungudzemwoyo P. Garaba

Marine Sensor Systems Group, Institute for Chemistry and Biology of the Marine Environment, Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, Schleusenstraße 1, Wilhelmshaven 26382, Germany  


Plastics in marine litter are becoming a nuisance in the environment and as a result there has been a dire need to synoptically detect, track, characterize and quantify them in the ocean. We will present findings from scientific evidence-based studies and datasets-of-opportunity demonstrating the potential application of optical sensors on airborne and satellite platforms in remote sensing of floating plastics from the open ocean to estuarine systems. We also discuss these optical sensors in terms of the ‘detect, track, characterise and quantify’ requirements which also depend on the size distribution of the target aquatic plastics floating or slightly submerged. Optical sensor characteristics were also investigated in terms of temporal, spectral, geospatial coverage and resolution. The measured spectral properties of the target floating plastics were compared to open-access spectral libraries to best predict polymer types present. Additional work was aimed at determining ways to estimate the abundance of plastic debris in target areas. Implications of successful remote detection, tracking and quantification of plastic debris will be towards operational validation of field measurements over large areas and at repeated time intervals in different aquatic environments.

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