Davaasuren N, Marino A, Boardman C, Alparone M, Nunziata F, Ackermann N & Hajnsek I (2018) Detecting microplastics pollution in world oceans using sar remote sensing. In: IGARSS 2018 - 2018 IEEE International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium. IEEE International Symposium on Geoscience and Remote Sensing IGARSS. IGARSS 2018 International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium, Valencia, Spain, 22.07.2018-27.07.2018. Piscataway, NJ, USA: IEEE, pp. 938-941. https://doi.org/10.1109/IGARSS.2018.8517281
Abstract Plastic pollution in world oceans is estimated to have reached 270.000 tones, or 5.25 trillion pieces. This plastic is now ubiquitous, however due to ocean circulation patterns, it accumulates in the ocean gyres, creating “garbage patches”. This plastic debris is colonized by microorganisms which can create unique surfactants and bio-film ecosystems. Microbial colonization is the first step towards disintegration and degradation of plastic materials: a process that releases metabolic by-products from energy synthesis. These byproducts include the release of short-chain and more complex carbon molecules in the form of surfactants, which we hypothesize will affect the fluid dynamic properties of waves (change in viscosity and surface tension) and make them detectable by the SAR sensor. In this study we used Sentinel-1A and COSMO-SkyMed SAR images in selected sites of the North Pacific and North Atlantic oceans, close to the ocean gyres and away from the coastal interference. Together with SAR processing we conducted contextual image analysis, using ocean geophysical products of the sea surface temperature, surface wind, chlorophyll, wave heights and wave spectrum of the ocean surface. In addition, we started lab experiments under controlled conditions to test the behaviour of microbes colonizing the two most common marine pollutants, polyethylene (PE) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) microplastics. The analysis of the SAR images had shown that a combination of surface wind speed and Langmuir cells- ocean circulation pattern is the main controlling factor in creating the distinct appearance of the surfactants, sea-slicks and microbial bio-films. The preliminary conclusion of our study is that SAR remote sensing may be able to detect plastic pollution in the open oceans and this method can be extended to other areas.