European Space Agency-selected consortium explores new methods to monitor, track and combat the marine litter crisis
Eight million tons every year: that’s the amount of plastic pollution estimated to enter our oceans—enough to cover every coastline on Earth at least five times over. And the inherent durability of plastic means it can persist for centuries, with many plastic items getting smaller and smaller but never fully disappearing. The impacts of plastic pollution are truly global in scope; it has entered our ecosystems, contaminated the food chain and is present in the majority of the world’s tap water.
Combatting this rise has become a global priority. So where do we begin? The first step: detecting and monitoring ocean pollution’s various entry points and pathways from a new perspective—a vantage point from outer space.
Monitoring marine environments from above
The European Space Agency’s Space Solutions initiative recently enlisted a CGG-led consortium, which includes Mott MacDonald and Brunel University London, to study new technology and services to help fight the global marine litter crisis.
“We are proud to have been selected by the European Space Agency to head up this important study,” said Richard Burren, Director of CGG’s Satellite Mapping. “With our experience in satellite-enabled Earth mapping and monitoring, and the broad expertise of our consortium partners, our ambition is to significantly improve the understanding of pollution sources and migration trends in marine and coastal environments.”
Environmental science to find pollution sources
CGG will work with its partners to develop innovative environmental solutions based on its advanced processing and analysis of satellite Earth observation data, including taking full advantage of its artificial intelligence models. Helping to deliver on objectives is the consortium’s combined expertise, spanning satellite remote sensing, environmental science, plastic pollution, drift modelling, mitigation measures and policy development.
“Most marine waste is carried from far inland by rivers, which act as arteries and result in waste congregating at river mouths and coastal cities,” Richard explained. “But there are also ocean-based sources, like fishing and shipping. Whatever the source, our aim is to pinpoint not only where plastic waste enters the marine environment, but also the pathways it follows before it becomes entangled, ingested or degraded.”
Fit-for-purpose solutions shape the future
The study’s first phase will focus on establishing the technical feasibility and commercial viability of new satellite-based services that directly respond to the requirements of an independent group of end-users. The results will inform new fit-for-purpose solutions that could be implemented in the future.
“Effective mapping and monitoring are critical for better understanding and mitigating the global impact of marine plastics pollution,” said Richard. “We are eager to begin applying proven science and the latest technologies to meet specific challenges, and to inform the international policies and environmental initiatives of tomorrow.”