Researchers deploy AI to monitor the trajectory of ocean waste

·2-min read
Financed by the United Nations, the new virtual tool, which has been christened World's Ocean Litter, maps the effects of currents on marine waste and predicts where it is likely to wash ashore.

Real-time monitoring of the millions of tonnes of plastic floating in the world's oceans: this was the objective set by a team of American researchers, who have created a virtual tool to determine the trajectory of marine waste.

The research project, which has published results in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science , was coordinated by Eric Chassignet, the director of the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies (COAPS) and a professor at the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science at Florida State University in the United States.

Christened World's Ocean Litter , the tool developed by Professor Chassignet and financed by the United Nations aims to measure the quantity of plastic decomposing in the world's oceans and identify countries releasing waste and the countries where it may be washed up.

"Marine litter is found around the world, and we do not fully understand its impact on the ocean ecosystem or human health. That's why it's important to learn more about this problem and develop effective ways to mitigate it," points out Eric Chassignet.

The computer model makes use of COAPS (the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies) data to map the effects of currents on litter, and to predict where marine waste is likely to wash ashore.

"Knowing where the marine litter released into the ocean by a given country goes and the origin of the litter found on the coastline of a given country are important pieces of information for policymakers," explains Professor Chassignet.

A similar tool to protect the Galapagos Islands

Another team of scientists, this time in Europe, have also made use of AI to develop a tool to predict where and when waste might wash up in the Galapagos Islands, which are home to multiple unique wildlife species and have been classed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Directed by Stephanie Ypma of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, the project was conducted in collaboration with the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht and the British conservation charity the Galapagos Conservation Trust. The tool aims to predict where waste will arrive in the islands to target cleanup efforts in areas with heavier pollution that can be easily accessed.

Several parameters were incorporated into the design of this digital modeling tool, including ocean fluxes and the composition of plastic particles. Floating GPS-located sensors were also used to measure the movement of water towards the islands. All of these elements were then combined with AI to create predictions, which will be announced this summer.

Léa Drouelle