The HyPeR project objective is to demonstrate the feasibility of hyperspectral remote sensing to detect macro plastics (>25mm) and microplastics (1-5mm) in marine conditions and provide specifications for a data acquisition system for monitoring the marine plastics based upon a hyperspectral sensor.
The proven knowledge that plastic polymers possess unique optical signatures in the Near InfraRed (NIR) and Short Wave Infrared (SWIR) is used in waste management and recycling. Combining this with the VITO expertise in the domain of ocean water quality retrieval, with remote sensing techniques where specific absorption features are used (e.g. the detection of sediment and Chlorophyll) could lead to a monitoring approach for plastics in ocean conditions (slightly submerged, seawater atmospheric influence, turbid coastal waters, …) with a hyperspectral sensor.
The current methods (sightings, plankton nets, modelling, plastics ingested by marine biota, sampling for microplastics) are not sufficient to provide a good view of the marine plastics distribution. Hyperspectral remote sensing of marine plastics will provide more extensive monitoring, with the advantage of:
– Standardised objective measurement
– Large area coverage
– Relatively low-cost operations
– Polymer types identification based on their unique spectral features
Some basic experiments have been performed on floating macro plastics, but they do not provide an answer to the effect of water absorption and suspended sediments in the water, because they were performed in dry lab conditions.
The HyPeR project will perform tests to evaluate whether plastics are still detectable in a controlled environment, which simulate a real marine condition in a step by step approach.
The innovation potential of the project is high both in terms of sensor design, software for processing as integrated solutions. Next steps could be:
– the developing of a dedicated marine hyperspectral plastic sensor including the processing software
– new developed image analysis/machine learning algorithm
– integrated systems need to be built (e.g. drone + hyperspectral camera)
– underwater drones with hyperspectral sensors
All this will lead to a widespread adaptation of hyperspectral sensors by commercial players.
The final goal is to have a dedicated hyperspectral sensor for marine plastics monitoring, that can be used on a small drone or, in the longer term, on a HALE UAV or a satellite platform. Allowing to make a real-time 3D distribution maps on a local and global scale.
European society will also greatly benefit, at least 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year. This plastic pollution is the most widespread problem affecting the marine environment. Very few information is however available on the distribution, types, quantities and sources of marine plastic debris. HyPeR could be the start of better monitoring of the marine plastics problem, which is the first step towards the solution.