Are Satellites the Solution for Microplastics?

By now, we’re all aware that microplastics—fragments about the size of a sesame seed— have been found in water in the furthest reaches of Antarctica to the deepest depths of the sea. 

To figure out exactly how microplastic pollution is impacting our oceans and what can be done about it, scientists need to determine how much there is and where it’s accumulating. That hasn’t been possible so far. Most data is collected from commercial and research ships towing cone-shaped nets with a very fine mesh but these trawling nets can only sample small areas which means they may be missing true plastic concentrations. Except for the North Atlantic and North Pacific gyres—huge zones where ocean currents collect floating debris—scientists haven’t really looked elsewhere.

In a recently released study, scientists from the University of Michigan revealed a new way to detect microplastic concentrations using NASA’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS). These eight microsatellites were launched in 2016 to help NASA see how winds roughen the ocean’s surface and to predict hurricanes. 

As the U of M scientist figured out, when there is a lot of material floating in the water, winds don’t roughen the ocean surface as much. Put another way, they determined that unusually smooth waters contained high concentrations of microplastics. 

This is the latest frontier for tracking microplastics and finding solutions! And that’s the whole point. Already, there have been conversations with private organizations like The Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit in the Netherlands, and Clewat, a Finnish clean tech company. The idea is to help them deploy their specially outfitted ships to targeted areas sot hey can collect, recycle, and dispose of ocean litter. 

In this Plastic Free July, an annual global event to raise awareness of plastic pollution,this kind of breakthrough is great news!  

So to celebrate all the people who are working to better the planet—scientists and citizens alike—, etee is offering up to 65% off their most popular items plus a FREE lotion bar refill with purchase of Lotion Bar in a tin! 

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Cheers to technology,
Chantal and the whole crew at etee

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