Tracking Microplastics Along Cape Cod

The Marine Renewable Energy Collaborative (MRECo) assisted with installing a groundbreaking microplastics (MPs) and harmful algal bloom (HAB) sensor called HABStats to track MPs and HABs through the Cape Cod Canal and onward into Buzzards Bay that may have originated in the region around the Deer Island Treatment Plant in Boston.

As part of a NOAA Phase II SBIR contract, Dr. Scott Gallager, scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and president of CoastalOceanVision Inc., will use the HABStats sensor on the Bourne Tidal Test Site (BTTS) to photograph and analyze the molecular structure of HABs and MPs as they flow by the BTTS. The camera will be attached to the BTTS by Eben Franks, MRECo’s operations manager, and a crew from CoastalOceanVision.

The HABStats sensor is still in a prototype stage but far enough along to demonstrate in real-world conditions the automated imaging and classification of HAB cells and MP particles from 1 mm to 2 microns.

In addition to imaging, HABStats uses a special type of laser spectroscopy where molecules are set to vibrate by the laser and give off light that is shifted in wavelength. That shift is a function of the molecular structure of cells and plastic particles and represents a fingerprint of the materials that are being excited. Using artificial intelligence, all image and spectral data are combined, and species or polymer type is revealed. The results are telemetered to shore in real time.

The intent is to distribute these sensors in water bodies in distributed arrays as part of the Internet of Things, whereby contamination can be revealed and tracked quickly before it can harm livestock, pets and humans.

Leave a Reply