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  • Only a small fraction of plastic litter floating in the seas ends up on the shores, as to be seen here at Unalau Bay, Hawaii. In future, scientists want to trace marine plastic litter by means of remote sensing to selctively organise cleanups, e.g. [Image: Sarah-Jeanne Royer].

    Only a small fraction of plastic litter floating in the seas ends up on the shores, as to be seen here at Unalau Bay, Hawaii. In future, scientists want to trace marine plastic litter by means of remote sensing to selctively organise cleanups, e.g. [Image: Sarah-Jeanne Royer].

Launch of international task force for remote sensing of marine debris

How can remote sensing technologies such as drones, airplanes and satellites support monitoring strategies to better understand the spread and distribution of plastic litter and debris in the global oceans?  This question will be addressed by a new task force set up by Dr. Shungudzemwoyo Garaba of the University of Oldenburg's Institute for Chemistry and Biology of the Marine Environment (ICBM) and other experts under the auspices of the International Ocean-Colour Coordinating Group (IOCCG).

Oldenburg. How can remote sensing technologies such as drones, airplanes and satellites support monitoring strategies to better understand the spread and distribution of plastic litter and debris in the global oceans?  This question will be addressed by a new task force set up by Dr. Shungudzemwoyo Garaba of the University of Oldenburg's Institute for Chemistry and Biology of the Marine Environment (ICBM) and other experts under the auspices of the International Ocean-Colour Coordinating Group (IOCCG). The task force, titled "Remote Sensing of Marine Litter and Debris", will be led by Garaba as scientific chair as well as four other chairs from international space agencies.

The team of scientists plans to work with international experts to develop a roadmap on innovative remote sensing technologies and techniques that can be used to monitor plastic litter and debris in all aquatic environments. Garaba and his colleagues will start with an assessment of the current capability of drones, aircraft and satellites to gather essential variables to detect, quantify, characterize and track aggregated aquatic plastic litter and debris. The objective is to develop new algorithms and sensor technologies that make it easier to detect floating plastic litter and monitor its distribution.

In a study published in the scientific journal Environmental Science and Technology in 2018, a research team led by Garaba reported that floating and submerged ocean plastics could be identified using state-of-the-art remote sensing tools on a Hercules C-130 aircraft. The study showed that the infrared light reflected by plastic particles floating on the ocean surface differs significantly from light reflected by algae or breaking waves, for example. Garaba concluded from this that remote sensing of floating plastic litter is possible and can be useful for monitoring its spread and for planning dedicated clean-up efforts. A follow-up study by Garaba and several colleagues funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) investigated the extent to which the concentration of plastics in a target region can be detected from space. The new findings were recently published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials.

Garaba was also a member of the jury for the "AI Moonshot Challenge", an international competition organised by the Portuguese Space Agency and the European Space Agency that invited researchers to present innovative solutions for monitoring maritime waste on a planetary scale using artificial intelligence and satellite data.

Contact: Dr. Shungudzemwoyo Garaba, eMail:

 

(Changed: 2021-04-30)