Measuring Marine Plastic Debris from Space: Initial Assessment of Observation Requirements

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Sustained observations are required to determine the marine plastic debris mass balance
and to support effective policy for planning remedial action. However, observations currently remain
scarce at the global scale. A satellite remote sensing system could make a substantial contribution
to tackling this problem. Here, we make initial steps towards the potential design of such a remote
sensing system by: (1) identifying the properties of marine plastic debris amenable to remote sensing
methods and (2) highlighting the oceanic processes relevant to scientific questions about marine
plastic debris. Remote sensing approaches are reviewed and matched to the optical properties of
marine plastic debris and the relevant spatio-temporal scales of observation to identify challenges
and opportunities in the field. Finally, steps needed to develop marine plastic debris detection by
remote sensing platforms are proposed in terms of fundamental science as well as linkages to ongoing
planning for satellite systems with similar observation requirements.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2243
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2019


  • high spatial resolution
  • hyperspectra sensors
  • marine plastic debris
  • mission requirements
  • multispectral imagers
  • remote sensing
  • sensors synergy
  • submesoscale processes


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