Monaco Impact launches with MINES ParisTech an ambitious project to assess microplastic ocean pollution

Monaco Impact, a nonprofit organization supporting among other ocean protection is launching together with MINES ParisTech a groundbreaking study project to measure microplastic ocean pollution. The aim is to set measuring standards than can help decision-makers to bring the urgency of the subject on the global political agenda.
To assess the density of microplastic ocean pollution the project entails engineering projects to design data collection systems at large scale, new measurement capabilities, in-situ as well as airborne or spaceborne and cutting-edge data processing algorithms.

A two-fold problem to tackle

The project was initiated following the observation of the pollution of the oceans by plastics and notably microplastics which is now recognized by scientists as serious and responsible for major disturbances in the marine fauna and, by extension, at the level of the climate. On this last point, there is evidence that the planktons, suspended in the polluted layer, no longer fulfill their role of absorption of CO2, an essential function at a global scale: the ocean carbon sink.
Secondly, this pollution is poorly mapped and monitored, difficult to measure with available in-situ sensing equipment and, therefore, merely visible at the level of international institutions or political decision-makers. In addition, higher visibility of this plastic pollution in oceans will better raise the essential upstream question about the use and production of plastics in general.
Solutions are under study to tackle the plastic pollution but many deal with macro-plastics.

The plan

To tackle microplastics ocean pollution, MINES ParisTech students will work on three main topics:

  • Identifying, mapping and monitoring pollution hotspots. This involves different sources of observation such as in-situ measurements from ships, radar and optical imagery spaceborne systems, numerical modelling of sea currents and weather. This also involves efficient methods to combine these different heterogeneous sources, based on optical and radar image processing, statistical learning and computational fluid dynamic modeling. The analysis will be validated by in situ measurements carried out by various expeditions like eXXpedition to which Irina Maria Peterson – project leader and Monaco Impact member took part;
  • Developing new measuring equipment, first in-situ and then spaceborne, with micro- or nano-satellites as test-cases, or companionship of existing missions, filling the gap for additional dedicated information. Discussions are ongoing with Thales Alenia Space regarding opportunities for a joint project. It is a question of designing, optimizing the sensors and protocols to a large-scale data collection targeted for a specific usage, and not of “doing with” what is currently available;
  • Studying the chemical and mechanical processes of decomposition of plastics in the oceans and exposed to solar radiation and various weather conditions, and collaborate with ocean scientists to better understand the impact of this decomposition on ecosystems and the physical properties of the plastics from their spectrum of sizes from macro to the micro, or even to nano.

International cooperation

The project will rely on a close international cooperation with other institutions which will propel its global impact.
The transversal educational initiative “DATA_Sophia” aiming at improving the skills of some of students in cutting edge and mathematically-based approaches of data sciences will also partner as a research center.
The project’s start with two interns from MINES ParisTech and the help of the university’s engineering classes is eminent.
Irina Maria Peterson has been appointed as Monaco Impact project leader for this ambitious project accompanied by Professor Sebastien Travadel who will lead the project for Ecoles MINES ParisTech.

About Monaco Impact

Monaco Impact is an NGO based in Monaco that gathers philanthropists and experienced entrepreneurs living in the Principality who wish to share their time and experience to the profit of the environment and the next generation of “Responsible Entrepreneurs”.
About MINES ParisTech

MINES ParisTech is a French engineering school (“Grande Ecole”), and one of the oldest engineering school in the world (created in 1783).
It offers several curriculums with a strong emphasis of mathematics and physics. Notably, the mainstream curriculum trains engineers devoted to work in the management of engineering projects in the private sector.