Satellites to monitor marine debris from space | Science & Technology

Detecting marine debris from space is now a reality, according to a new study led by the Institut de Ciències del Mar (ICM-CSIC) and the University of Cadiz recently published in the journal Nature Communications. Until now, the amount of litter -mostly plastic- on the sea surface was rarely high enough to generate a detectable signal from space. However, using supercomputers and advanced search algorithms, the research team has demonstrated that satellites are an effective tool for estimating the amount of litter in the sea.

To carry out the work, funded by the European Space Agency (ESA), a six-year historical series of observations from the European Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite in the Mediterranean Sea were analysed. In total, 300,000 images taken every 3 days at a resolution of 10 metres were scrutinised. The results reveal large aggregations of litter within floating structures scientifically known as ‘windrows’ that can be up to several kilometres long and result from the convergence of ocean currents and the effect of wind on the sea surface.

Although the satellite’s sensors were not specifically designed to detect litter, their ability to identify plastic made it possible to map the most polluted areas in the Mediterranean. This map shows the main entry points for litter from the mainland and improves our understanding of the mechanisms that transport debris. The results indicate that the amount of floating plastic in the Mediterranean could cover an area of approximately 95 square kilometres over the period 2015-2021, which is equivalent to about 7,500 football pitches.

‘Until now, looking for aggregations of litter several metres in diameter on the ocean surface was like looking for needles in a haystack, as the formation of windrows requires the presence of a large amount of litter and little wind to prevent it from spreading,’ explains Manuel Arias (ICM-CSIC), one of the co-directors of the study.

From his side, Andrés Cózar, from the…

Source www.sciencedaily.com

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