FIG Commission 4 - Hydrography

Working Group - Joint Commission 4 and Young Surveyors Network
Mapping the Plastic

Policy Issues

The effects of plastic pollution on the Earth’s oceans are well documented, potentially catastrophic and increasing exponentially year on year. The UN Environment Programme has calculated that each year more than 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the oceans, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism, and costing at least $8 billion in damage to our marine ecosystems. Eighty per cent of all litter in our oceans is made of plastic. This is an intolerable but not insurmountable problem that needs immediate and far-reaching action to remedy.

Rivers have been identified as a significant contributor to and enabler of the plastic pollution problem. Working Group 4.3, a combined initiative of the FIG Young Surveyors Network and Commission 4, will focus on the dumping of plastics (and other waste) into major rivers, river systems and deltas at strategic locations around the world. Waste measurement in these water bodies using remote sensing, bathymetyric, current measurement and topographical surveys of plastic waste along the banks of rivers will enable a greater understanding of the quantum of plastic waste being transported to the oceans and inform the control and regulation of land use practices with an ultimate goal of eradicating the dumping of plastics into river systems.

Chair

Simon Ironside, New Zealand

Specific projects

A pilot project will focus on the Mekong River delta in the south of Vietnam at its outfall to the South China Sea. This project will be undertaken in conjuction with The Centre for Supporting Green Development (GreenHub), a Vietnamese, non-governmental, not-for-profit organisation and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

What we are working on -

What's New

Since it’s inception at the FIG Congress 2018 in Istanbul, Working Group 4.3, a joint undertaking of Commission 4 and the Young Surveyors Network, has been very active and there is every indication that it’s workload will only increase. The effects of plastic pollution on the Earth’s oceans are well documented, potentially catastrophic and increasing exponentially year on year. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has calculated that only nine per cent of the nine billion tonnes of plastic produced throughout the world has been re-cycled and each year more than 8 million tonnes of plastic come to reside in our oceans. Eighty per cent of all litter in our oceans is made of plastic. This is an intolerable problem that needs immediate and far-reaching action to remedy. Eric Solheim, Head of UN Environment, speaking at the launch of the #CleanSeas campaign argued that it was past time to tackle the plastic problem that blights our oceans. ‘We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse’ he said, ‘it must stop’. We agree.

Rivers have been identified as a significant contributor to, and enabler of, the plastic pollution problem affecting our oceans. UNEP estimates that just ten major river systems carry more than 80% of the plastic waste that ends up in the Earth’s oceans. Much of the available information relating to the scale of the plastic pollution problem is based on relatively crude modelling. Plastic litter is predominantly concentrated on banks, coastal beaches and in the upper limits of surface water bodies. The lack of a means of comprehensive analysis of the spatial and temporal extent and quantum of plastic waste at a specific site, or on a regional or global level and the tools for ongoing monitoring represents a significant obstacle to addressing and eradicating the plastic waste ‘explosion’.

Working Group 4.3 has been formed to better understand plastic pollution in waterways by providing accurate and reliable information of the magnitude of the problem at source, thereby highlighting unsustainable practices, identifying infrastructure shortcomings and informing robust land use controls with the ultimate goal of eradicating the dumping plastic waste into rivers. As surveyors and spatial professionals, we have the requisite skills and expertise to determine the vectors, quantum and frequency of plastic passing through waterways and to accurately quantify the amount and type of plastic litter on riverbanks, coastlines and estuarine areas.


Presentation at FIG Working Week 2019 by Britta Denise Hardesty, TJ Lawson, Qamar Schuyler, Chris Wilcox (Australia), 
Trang Nguyen and Hoa Tran (Vietnam): Mapping the Plastic along Hai Phong's Urban and Coastal Margins (10175)

Remote sensing data from satellites and airborne platforms available in different spatial, spectral and temporal resolutions has the potential to be a reliable source of long-term qualitative and quantitative information over large geographic areas. Research by members of the Mapping the Plastic working group at universities in Bosnia and Hezegovina and Serbia are currently underway to distinguish plastics from surrounding litter/debris classes using remote sensing techniques and the results are very promising.

Assessment of the spatial extent and variability of plastic is possible due to the unique spectral signature of polymers in the near-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum and we are looking at defining the data acquisition technology and identification methodology that will enable identification of plastic debris down to 1 cm2 in size.

A combination of high resolution satellite and drone data has been processed using the developed algorithms to detect floating plastic in surface water, combined with ‘ground truthing’ land surveying measurements, bathymetric and water current data. This data will enable teams of volunteers to accurately map plastic concentrations at global ‘hot spots’ to enable regulators to better understand the extent of the phenomenon they are dealing with and inform decisions that impact the potential solution.

In order to undertake the field work required to infill gaps in the satellite/drone data, Trimble has kindly donated a suite of surveying hardware and software to the Mapping the Plastic working group and on behalf of FIG I would like to express my gratitude to Trimble for their assistance. This equipment will be of enormous benefit and is greatly appreciated. Negotiations are ongoing to secure a drone to assist with the plastic surveys.


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