Can you spot ocean plastic from space? | Eurasia Diary -

22 July, Monday

Can you spot ocean plastic from space?

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Scientists are working on a technique to track plastic debris in the ocean from space.

It's extremely challenging, especially since the individual pieces of litter are smaller than the minimum-sized objects that satellites can resolve.

But the approach works by looking for plastic's reflected light signature in the water.

And early trials conducted by the UK's Plymouth Marine Laboratory have been very encouraging.

"You're never going to see an individual plastic bottle floating on the sea, but we can detect aggregations of this material," Dr Lauren Biermann told BBC News.

The Earth observation scientist has been experimenting with the EU's Sentinel-2 satellites - a pair of orbiting multi-spectral instruments (MSI) that were launched in 2015 and 2017 and are operated by the European Space Agency (ESA).

The duo's mission is primarily to make a continuously evolving map of Earth's land surfaces, but in the process, they also capture a view of coastal waters.

And, actually, this is the key zone of opportunity if you want to monitor plastic discharge to the ocean because much of the eight million tonnes globally that's thought to make its way out to sea every year do so through rivers and their estuaries.

In the UK, the Sentinel pair will be mapping this zone every couple of days.

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