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Award for detecting marine plastic from space

5 May 2021

We are delighted to share the news that PML’s Dr Lauren Biermann has won the Science category of the Ocean Awards 2021 for her development of a pioneering satellite technique to detect aggregated plastics floating on the sea surface.

Satellite image with plastic data

Working with Earth Observation colleagues at PML and the University of the Aegean, Dr Biermann led the publishing of the method to detect marine plastics from space a year ago, which has attracted much attention both within and outside the scientific community. 

Using this method, aggregations of plastic particles were distinguishable from naturally occurring floating materials, such as seaweed, driftwood and foam, with an average accuracy of 86% across 4 case study sites. 

The research was primarily funded by the Natural Environment Research Council’s ACCORD research programme and is the first step towards developing an operational method of detecting floating plastic patches in waters all over the world. 

Dr Biermann commented on the award: “I was gobsmacked to have been shortlisted for the Science category for my research into detecting marine plastics from satellite data. Sharing the nomination with such inspiring scientists was an honour in itself so to win is an absolute dream. A great big well done to my highly deserving fellow nominees: the DSSV Pressure Drop team for their sonar mapping of the Mariana Trench and to Dr William Cheung of the University of British Columbia, developing heatwave-adapted conservation planning."

"I would also like to say a huge thank you to the Blue Marine Foundation and BOAT International for the award, to Plymouth Marine Laboratory for their continued support and to my wonderful co-workers who helped make the work possible.” 

Brought together by BOAT International and the Blue Marine Foundation, The Ocean Awards is in its sixth year and rewards a wealth of extraordinary efforts to save our seas, from local heroes to renowned scientists and pioneering innovators.

Related information

Find the original news piece about Dr Biermann's work here