June 2024, article in peer-reviewed journal
Nature Communications

Andrés Cózar, Manuel Arias, Giuseppe Suaria, Josué Viejo, Stefano Aliani, Aristeidis Koutroulis, James Delaney, Guillaume Bonnery, Diego Macías, Robin de Vries, Romain Sumerot, Carmen Morales-Caselles, Antonio Turiel, Daniel González-Fernández and Paolo Corradi

  • Publication type: Article in peer-reviewed journal
  • Publication journal: Nature Communications
  • Publication date: June 14, 2024
  • Collaborators: Departamento de BiologĂ­a, Facultad de Ciencias del Mar y Ambientales, Universidad de Cádiz and European University of the Seas (SEA-EU), Puerto Real, Spain | Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM-CSIC), Barcelona Expert Center, Barcelona, Spain. | ARGANS France, Sophia-Antipolis, cedex, France | Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), Barcelona, Spain | Istituto di Scienze Marine - Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (ISMAR-CNR), Lerici, La Spezia, Italy | Technical University of Crete, School of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Chania, Greece | ARGANS Ltd., Plymouth, United Kingdom | Airbus Defence and Space, Toulouse, France | European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Ispra, Italy | The Ocean Cleanup, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. | ACRI-ST, Sophia-Antipolis, France | European Space Agency - ESTEC, Noordwijk, The Netherlands.
  • DOI: 10.1038/s41467-024-48674-7


Worldwide, governments are implementing strategies to combat marine litter. However, their effectiveness is largely unknown because we lack tools to systematically monitor marine litter over broad spatio-temporal scales. Metre-sized aggregations of floating debris generated by sea-surface convergence lines have been reported as a reliable target for detection from satellites. Yet, the usefulness of such ephemeral, scattered aggregations as proxy for sustained, large-scale monitoring of marine litter remains an open question for a dedicated Earth-Observation mission. Here, we track this proxy over a series of 300,000 satellite images of the entire Mediterranean Sea. The proxy is mainly related to recent inputs from land-based litter sources. Despite the limitations of in-orbit technology, satellite detections are sufficient to map hot-spots and capture trends, providing an unprecedented source-to-sink view of the marine litter phenomenon. Torrential rains largely control marine litter inputs, while coastal boundary currents and wind-driven surface sweep arise as key drivers for its distribution over the ocean. Satellite-based monitoring proves to be a real game changer for marine litter research and management. Furthermore, the development of an ad-hoc sensor can lower the minimum detectable concentration by one order of magnitude, ensuring operational monitoring, at least for seasonal-to-interannual variability in the mesoscale.