Towards the spectral mapping of plastic debris on beaches

Jenna A. Guffogg, Mariela Soto-Berelov, Simon D. Jones, Chris J. Bellman, Jennifer L. Lavers, Andrew K. Skidmore

Floating and washed ashore marine plastic debris (MPD) is a growing environmental challenge. It has become evident that secluded locations including the Arctic, Antarctic, and remote islands are being impacted by plastic pollution generated thousands of kilometers away. Optical remote sensing of MPD is an emerging field that can aid in monitoring remote environments where in-person observation and data collection is not always feasible.

Here we evaluate MPD spectral features in the visible to shortwave infrared regions for detecting varying quantities of MPD that have accumulated on beaches using a spectroradiometer. Measurements were taken from a range of in situ MPD accumulations ranging from 0.08% to 7.94% surface coverage. Our results suggest that spectral absorption features at 1215 nm and 1732 nm are useful for detecting varying abundance levels of MPD in a complex natural environment, however other absorption features at 931 nm, 1045 nm and 2046 nm could not detect in situ MPD. The reflectance of some in situ MPD accumulations was statistically different from samples that only contained organic debris and sand between 1.56% and 7.94% surface cover; however other samples with similar surface cover did not have reflectance that was statistically different from samples containing no MPD.

Despite MPD being detectable against a background of sand and organic beach debris, a clear relationship between the surface cover of MPD and the strength of key absorption features could not be established. Additional research is needed to advance our understanding of the factors, such as type of MPD assemblage, that contribute to the bulk reflectance of MPD contaminated landscapes