Satellite comms tracking plastic drift
Written by: Philip Mason | Published:

The University of Oldenburg is in Germany is using satellite communications technology to study the movement of floating plastic pollution in the North Sea.

The project - the purpose of which is to establish a clear picture of plastic drift patterns - is being carried out through the use of SPOT Trace and Globalstar solutions, with small satellite trackers embedded into buoys floating on the water. The trackers include an integrated GPS receiver, simplex transponder as well as a motion sensor.

Speaking of the project, PhD student Jens Meyerjürgens said: “The buoys provide a wealth of information on the movement of plastics on the sea’s surface. This helps us understand how debris is affected by the complex interaction of wind, current and tides.”

Mathias Heckroth, managing director of conservation and research organisation Mellumrat eV, said: “75 per cent of the debris that washes ashore on our islands [of Mellum in the North Sea] is plastic, mostly from fishing activity.

“The study is playing an important role in helping to identify the source of the plastic litter. It is also showing unexpected drift movement - we usually have a west-to-east drift, but sometimes tracking the buoys reveals a drift in the opposite direction, and we are studying why.”

Following collection of the information, the university uses modelling tools to analyse ocean currents, paying particular attention to wave depth and height.

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