A satellite for detecting plastics at sea, an unprecedented experience in Port-Vendres

Being able to detect ocean-going plastics to make recovery easier. This, in turn, led to the launch of this test two months ago at the only deep-water port in Pyrénées-Orientales.

“This is a world first! A team of Greek scientists started a similar experiment, but not of this magnitude.” Enthusiastic research professor at the Center for Mediterranean Environment (CEFREM) training and research at the University of Perpignan, Roman Jatialt. “Environmental pollution by plastics is a major concern for the scientific community. Recent studies show that their effects affect the environment on all scales. “

Research is being done on what happens to plastic after it reaches the sea

“After passing through water and rivers, plastic pollutants end up in the ocean. It becomes difficult to predict their future. Satellites have the ability to observe inaccessible areas, which makes it possible to study the future of plastics after hitting the sea.” It was in this context that the RESPOGLI project appeared, thanks to which Roman Jatialt and his team are trying to create a reliable method for detecting plastics at sea via satellite.

“This project, funded by the Van Allen Foundation, aims to study the biofueling and aging effects (especially due to UV) in water on the optical properties of plastics.” Biofouling or biological fouling is the creation of a layer of organisms on an artificial surface in permanent or frequent contact with water. It can be a submerged surface or one containing water. Apparently, the scientists let the tarpaulins get dirty to find out if it was still possible to detect them from space.

You will be able to ‘track’ them later with a nano-satellite

“For this, we put water in the pontoons of the old Port-Vendres auction (partially occupied by CEFREM), several rolls of agricultural tarpaulin across 400 m2, a surface that allows good resolution by satellite. The optical spectrum of plastic floating in the ocean needs to be clearly identified so that it can be ‘tracked’ by a dedicated nano-satellite (see below). To be able to ‘track’ them and thus recover them more easily.

“For the moment, we are already using satellites in orbit (Prisma and Sentinel 2). We collect the acquired data at a specific time and for a specific period of time, which we then process and analyze.” Thus at 10 hours 36 minutes and 18 seconds and at 17 hours 22 minutes and 40 seconds (including some nearby) a satellite passing over Port-Vendres takes the necessary images for the study. An experience that required a lot of sacrifice because in addition to the difficulties associated with the weather (clouds hinder the normal operation of the satellite) there are multiple limitations.

Test site.

Find a consistent place where scientists can intervene at their convenience, get numerous approvals from Harbor Master’s Office, Department Services, Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Town Hall, users (divers, fishermen) … which is not easy. “But in the end everything went well.”, Says the scientist. The experience has just ended and Romain Jatiault is already wondering what will happen next. “It was agreed that we would leave the space available during the summer. This is normal. But we hope to be able to resume this research.”

Nano-satellites made in Montpellier

The University of Montpellier Space Center (CSUM) aims to develop nano-satellite technology and train young talents. This is where a device capable of ‘tracking’ plastic at sea can be imagined. What is a nano-satellite? It is a small satellite weighing 1 to 24 kg. The technology is a condensed cube that can measure 10 centimeters (edges) and which “Universities enable students to train in space technology by building their own measurement satellites. They can thus provide researchers with new search tools.”

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