|Robotic Ship Fishes for Ocean Pollutants|
Charles Moore, an American oceanographer who discovered the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” estimates that most of this ocean pollution comes from land-based sources, and about a fifth of the trash – from footballs and kayaks to Lego blocks and carrier bags – is thrown off ships or oil platforms.
Paul Sammet, a graduating mechanical engineering senior at Stevens Institute of Technology, said more research was needed to determine the polluting effects of the debris, and that the uncontrollable pollution in the Pacific ocean triggered his interest to work on a related senior capstone project called OURV.
Reports Sammet, “Our proposal attacked the problem of micro-plastic that is polluting the world’s oceans. Plastic is nonbiogradable, breaking up into smaller pieces of plastic over time. We created a prototype model of a fully automated drone vessel that can collect data about environmental ocean pollution and return with the data, much like the function of an exploratory space satellite.” Plastic is believed to constitute 90 per cent of all rubbish floating in the oceans. The UN Environment Program estimates that every square mile of ocean contains nearly 50,000 pieces of floating plastic.
According to the UN Environment Programme, plastic debris causes the deaths of more than a million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals. Syringes, cigarette lighters and toothbrushes have been found inside the stomachs of dead seabirds, which mistake them for food.
The slowly rotating mass of rubbish-laden water poses a risk to human health, too. Hundreds of millions of tiny plastic pellet pollutants, or nurdles – the raw materials for the plastic industry – are lost or spilled every year, working their way into the sea. These pollutants act as chemical sponges attracting man-made chemicals such as hydrocarbons and the pesticide DDT. They then enter the food chain – and your stomach.
Says Sammet, “Millions of pounds of manmade plastics are polluting our oceans. These floating bits plastic are being mistaken by fish as food, wreaking havoc on our ocean’s ecosystems. Plastic will continue to exist as plastic for an extremely long amount of time. However, intense UV radiation breaks each polymer chain causing the part to break up into smaller, individual pieces, which are still plastic.” “In the North Pacific Ocean,” he adds, “A gyre roughly the size of the state of Texas, which is surrounded by circling currents, is the final destination for many of these bits. These small pieces often resemble the food that is found in the area, and are consequently eaten by the marine and bird life; causing untold numbers of deaths throughout many natural ecosystems.”
Tracking Ocean Pollution
The Oceanic Unmanned Research Vessel will be an extremely reliable surface oceanic vessel completely powered by solar panels. The craft will be programmed to reach a coordinate position in the ocean by means of GPS navigation. The craft will have sensors that will detect large objects around it such as ships, and be able to maneuver around them. It will also have submerged sensors that will be able to detect objects the size of small fish, or larger. An onboard submerged camera will photograph each object and store it along with its GPS data. Other oceanic data such as salinity, acidity and temperature will be gathered and stored. At strategic points in the ocean, the craft will collect and store small water samples using trolling techniques. After the OURV (Oceanic Unmanned Research Vessel) reaches a set point in the ocean and completes its data collection, it will initiate a return-to-base mode in which it will plot a course back to a specific return point and navigate it by means of GPS and Obstacle Avoidance.