A new method can spot ocean microplastics globally and track them over time.

The new work provides a day-by-day timeline of where microplastics enter the water, how they move, and where they tend to collect.

An estimated 8 million tons of plastic trash enters the ocean each year, and most of it is battered by sun and waves into microplastics—tiny flecks that can ride currents hundreds or thousands of miles from their point of entry.

The debris can harm sea life and marine ecosystems, and it’s extremely difficult to track and clean up.

The new approach relies on the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, or CYGNSS, and can give a global view or zoom in on small areas for a high-resolution picture of microplastic releases from a single location.

The technique is a major improvement over current tracking methods, which rely mainly on spotty reports from plankton trawlers that net microplastics along with their catch.

“We’re still early in the research process, but I hope this can be part of a fundamental change in how we track and manage microplastic pollution,” says Chris Ruf, professor of climate and space science at the University of Michigan, principal investigator of CYGNSS, and senior author of a new paper on the research in IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing.

Read the full article about tracking ocean microplastic pollution by Gabe Cherry at Futurity.