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Several European countries were affected by the destructive floods that occurred in Central Europe in July 2021. The floods damaged infrastructure in the process, and large amounts of debris were released and transported through the river system. Information on the composition of the flotsam transported by the floods is generally not known.

Large amounts of debris were also stowed at the Rur River dam near Obermaubach after the flood, which was observed during this study. Inspecting Sentinel satellite data, the debris was even visible from space. The flood debris was surveyed by a quadrocopter drone in early August 2021. Measurements in terms of the polluted area showed that the carpet of debris covered an area of ~0.7 ha, which is equivalent to the size of a soccer field. During the cleanup activities at the survey site near Obermaubach, 110 - 120 tons were later pulled out of the Rur.

The DFKI Marine Perception research unit detects the flotsam and plastic debris in the drone images using an artificial intelligence-based method that has already been developed and applied in several Southeast Asian and European countries. The detection of debris provides an analysis of litter characteristics, such as the amount of plastic litter and the type of litter (i.e., organic debris and different types of plastic litter).

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German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence
Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz