Scientists from the University of Michigan have developed an innovative way to use NASA satellite data to track the movement of tiny pieces of plastic in the oceans.
Microplastics form when plastic trash in the ocean breaks down from the sun’s rays and the motion of ocean waves. These small pieces of plastic are lethal to marine habitat and ecosystem. Microplastics can be carried hundreds or thousands of miles away from the source by ocean currents, making it difficult to track and remove them. Currently, Microplastics are located via Fisher boat trawlers which use nets to catch plankton, as well as Microplastics.
This new technique relies on NASA’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS), a constellation of eight small satellites that measure wind speeds above Earth’s oceans and provides information about the strength of the hurricanes.
The scientists found that the Microplastics tended to be present in smoother waters, demonstrating that CYGNSS data can be used as a tool to track ocean Microplastics from Space. The work was done by Chris Ruff, professor at the University of Michigan and principal investigator for CYGNSS, and undergraduate student Madeline C. Evans.