Senior Editor

The Inertia

There is a hell of a lot of plastic in the ocean. Enormous amounts of it, all floating around at various depths, from the bottom of the Mariana Trench to the top of the ocean. Boyan Slat and the Ocean Cleanup Project are attempting to clean some of it up, but finding out exactly where the most important piles of it are is difficult. Scientists, as scientists are wont to do, are working on that problem. And they’re taking about as wide a view as humans can take: they’re looking at the problem from space.

We humans are a messy species. We don’t need to be, but in order to live as comfortably as we’ve become accustomed to, we think that we require all sorts of shit made from plastic products. We use those things for a while, then throw them in the trash and forget about them entirely. But all those little things, all those tiny bits of wrapping and technology and, well, just about everything, will last far longer than we’ll be alive for. Food wrappers, cigarette butts, beverage bottles, grocery bags, straws, and take out containers, all made of plastic, and all lasting for hundreds of years.

“Unlike some other kinds of waste, plastic doesn’t decompose,” the National Ocean Service wrote. “That means plastic can stick around indefinitely, wreaking havoc on marine ecosystems. Some plastics float once they enter the ocean, though not all do. As the plastic is tossed around, much of it breaks into tiny pieces, called microplastics.”

It’s basically impossible to put an exact number on how much plastic is in the ocean today, but scientists think about 8 million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean in 2010 alone, and although we’re aware of the problem, we’re not doing anything meaningful on a global scale to solve it.

As I mentioned, part of the problem is figuring out where the best place to begin is. There are hotspots that should be concentrated on first, and taking a bird’s eye-view might be the solution.

“Scientists are working on a new way to find these hotspots: using hyperspectral satellites to detect ‘plastic fingerprints’ from space,” The Ocean Cleanup wrote. “…Hyperspectral sensors can find plastic from orbit.”

In the video above, Robin de Vries, a Researcher at The Ocean Cleanup, talks us through how the process works, shows how this cutting-edge dataset was collected, and explains how the dataset has been made available open-access to aid the global push to eliminate ocean plastic pollution.”

It’s just a small step, but a very important one. And if all goes well, it’s just the beginning of a planet-wide spring cleaning and re-thinking of how we’re treating our planet.


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