I am interested in developing a low cost, DIY plastic debris sensor that would be mounted on the bow of regular ships, boats … or an autonomous sailing robot :p
The project was suggested by both Doug Woodring of Ocean Recovery Alliance and Christine Greenberg of the Harbour School, Hong Kong. The concept was born during a conversation with Hank Carson (Hilo University of Hawaii), Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummings (5 Gyres) in January 2013 while sailing on the MV Explorer across the Pacific Ocean and after a visit of Kamilo Beach south of big Island.
In a nutshell and richly illustrated :
The ocean have millions of tons of plastic, but it tend to be broken down so small, the naked eye cannot see it.
Currently we are using large extremely expensive research vessels to drag plankton manta trawlers and we count plastic bits manually under a microscope. It is slow, expensive and potentially dangerous.
I suggest we use a machine similar to an LOPC (Laser Optical Particle Counter) that marine biologist use to count plankton, but refit them to measure plastic. This machine could be installed at the bow of ship. A vertical stack of them would allow the continuous collection of plastic as well as plankton data, at different depth. I insist, we would not collect physical samples, only data. This system would provide near-real-time plankton / plastic qualification and quantification, much higher resolution, and all of that without human repetitive labour. I believe that such installation at the bow of a ship would be safer and attractive since the ship could sail much faster than with a trawler. The idea is to make the system lightweight and low cost so it could be mounted not only on research vessels, but on any type of vessel becoming a sort of Ship of Opportunity.
In the document I outline a roadmap to develop the sensor, from the lab, to the river, to the ocean. I am aware that few micro-plastic debris can be found in rivers, mostly large debris that end in the ocean where they are broken down with the action of UV, salt, the mechanical action of wave and animal bites.
Step 1 : recreate the elements of study and the conditions.
Step 2 : create a “loop” where water flows carrying plastic debris as well as plankton and contaminated plastic debris.
Step 3 : Get out of the lab and test the counter in an open channel.
Step 4 : try out a stack of channels in the open sea.
Step 5 : map the data.
This is a very exciting topic for me and I look forward to update you about our progress – that will be logged on Scoutbots.com.
You can view and comment the original document (much longer) here : https://docs.google.com/document/d/1_pVjD9tWjHNkvA9ZPX_OD27gRgoPCt9KAEWeEBHc_rQ/edit?usp=sharing
Please let me know if you are interested in helping on the project. We need expertise in :
- image processing (still and video)
- fluid mechanics
- marine biology
- physical oceanography
- underwater robotics
Thank you for reading.