Microplastics in Polar Regions: the role of long range transport

Microplastics (particles <5 mm) pose a threat to the marine ecosystem that is disproportionate to their tiny size. They have been found in high numbers in sea water and sediments, and are interacting with organisms and the environment in a variety of ways. Recently their presence has been confirmed in Polar water, sediment, and sea ice. We review the recent literature on microplastic distribution and transport in marine environments, primarily in the Northern Hemisphere, summarize current understanding, identify gaps in understanding, and suggest future research priorities.

Rachel W. Obbard, Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health, Available online 13 December 2017, In Press


An airborne remote sensing case study of synthetic hydrocarbon detection using short wave infrared absorption features identified from marine-harvested macro- and microplastics

The abundance and distribution of plastic debris in natural waters is largely unknown due to limited comprehensive monitoring. Here, optical properties of dry and wet marine-harvested plastic debris were quantified to explore the feasibility of plastic debris optical remote sensing in the natural environment. We measured the spectral reflectance of microplastics (< 5 mm) from the North Atlantic Ocean, macroplastics (> 5 mm) washed ashore along the USA west coast and virgin plastic pellets over a wavelength range from 350 to 2500 nm. Compared to the spectral variability of multi-colored dry macroplastics, the measured dry marine-harvested microplastic reflectance spectra could be represented as a single bulk average spectrum with notable absorption features at ~ 931, 1215, 1417 and 1732 nm. The wet marine-harvested microplastics had similar spectral features to the dry microplastics but the magnitude was lower over the measured spectrum. When spectrally matched to the reference library of typical dry virgin pellets, the mean dry marine-harvested microplastics reflectance had moderate similarities to low-density polyethylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polypropylene and polymethyl methacrylate. This composition was consistent with the subset sampled with the Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectrometer and what has been reported globally. The absorption features at 1215 and 1732 nm were observable through an intervening atmosphere and used to map the distributions of synthetic hydrocarbons at a landfill and on man-made structures from airborne visible-infrared imaging spectrometer (AVIRIS) imagery, indicating the potential to remotely sense dry washed ashore and land-origin plastics. These same absorption features were identifiable on wet marine-harvested microplastics, but the ability to conduct remote sensing of microplastics at the ocean surface layer will require more detailed radiative transfer analysis and development of high signal-to-noise sensors. The spectral measurements presented here provide a foundation for such advances towards remote detection of plastics from various platforms.

Shungudzemwoyo P. Garaba, Heidi M. Dierssen, Remote Sensing of Environment, Volume 205, February 2018, Pages 224–235

The article

Assessing the relationship between the abundance and properties of microplastics in water and in mussels

Microplastic pollution is increasingly becoming a great environmental concern worldwide. Microplastics have been found in many marine organisms as a result of increasing plastic pollution within marine environments. However, the relationship between micoplastics in organisms and their living environment is still relatively poorly understood. In the present study, we investigated microplastic pollution in the water and the mussels (Mytilus edulis, Perna viridis) at 25 sites along the coastal waters of China. We also, for the first time, conducted an exposure experiment in parallel on the same site using M. edulis in the laboratory. A strong positive linear relationship was found between microplastic levels in the water and in the mussels. Fibers were the dominant microplastics. The sizes of microplastics in the mussels were smaller than those in the water. During exposure experiments, the abundance of microbeads was significantly higher than that of fibers, even though the nominal abundance of fibers was eight times that of microbeads. In general, our results supported positive and quantitative correlations of microplastics in mussels and in their surrounding waters and that mussels were more likely to ingest smaller microplastics. Laboratory exposure experiment is a good way to understand the relative impacts of microplastics ingested by marine organisms. However, significant differences in the results between exposure experiments and field investigations indicated that further efforts are needed to simulate the diverse environmentally relevant properties of microplastics.

Xiaoyun Qu, Lei Su, Hengxiang Li, Mingzhong Liang, Huahong Shi, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 621, 15 April 2018, Pages 679–686

The article

Understanding the Risks of Microplastics: A Social-Ecological Risk Perspective

This chapter deals with these questions by adopting a social-ecological perspective, discussing microplastics as a global risk. Taking four main characteristics of global risks, we develop four arguments to discuss (a) the everyday production of risk by societies, (b) scientific risk evaluation of microplastics, (c) social responses, and (d) problems of risk management. To illustrate these four issues, we draw on different aspects of the current scientific and public debate. In doing so, we contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the social-ecological implications of microplastics.

Johanna Kramm, Carolin Völker, Freshwater Microplastics pp 223-237, Part of the The Handbook of Environmental Chemistry book series (HEC, volume 58),

The chapter

Occurrence of microplastics in surface waters of the Gulf of Lion (NW Mediterranean Sea)

Between 2014 and 2016 a total of 43 microplastic samples were collected at six sampling stations in the eastern section of the Gulf of Lion (located in the northwestern Mediterranean Sea), as well as upstream of the Rhône River. Microplastics were found in every sample with highly variable concentrations and masses. Concentrations ranged from 6 · 103 items km−2 to 1 · 106 items km−2 (with an average of 112 · 103 items km−2), and mass ranged from 0.30 g km−2 to 1018 g km−2 DW (mean 61.92 ± 178.03 g km−2). The samples with the highest and lowest microplastic count originate both from the Bay of Marseille. For the Bay of Marseille, it is estimated that the total microplastic load consist of 519 · 103 –101 · 106 items weighing 0.07–118 kg. Estimations for daily microplastic transport by the Northern Current and the Rhône River, two important hydrologic features of the northwestern Mediterranean Sea, range from 0.18 to 86.46 t and from 0.20 to 21.32 kg, respectively. Particles < 1 mm2 clearly dominated sampling stations in the Northern Current, the Rhône River and its plume (52, 53 and 61%, respectively), suggesting a long exposure time in the environment. Items between 1 mm2 and 5 mm2 in size were the most abundant microplastics in Marseille Bay (55%), which suggests coastal pollution sources or the removal of smaller particles from surface waters e.g. by ballasting owing to the presence of epibionts.

Natascha Schmidt, Delphine Thibault, François Galgani, Andrea Paluselli, Richard Sempéré, Progress in Oceanography, Available online 22 November 2017, In Press, Corrected Proof

The article

Comparison of different methods for MP detection: What can we learn from them, and why asking the right question before measurements matters?

In recent years, an increasing trend towards investigating and monitoring the contamination of the environment by microplastics (MP) (plastic pieces < 5 mm) has been observed worldwide. Nonetheless, a reliable methodology that would facilitate and automate the monitoring of MP is still lacking. With the goal of selecting practical and standardized methods, and considering the challenges in microplastics detection, we present here a critical evaluation of two vibrational spectroscopies, Raman and Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, and two extraction methods: thermal extraction desorption gas chromatography mass spectrometry (TED-GC-MS) and liquid extraction with subsequent size exclusion chromatography (SEC) using a soil with known contents of PE, PP, PS and PET as reference material. The obtained results were compared in terms of measurement time, technique handling, detection limits and requirements for sample preparation. The results showed that in designing and selecting the right methodology, the scientific question that determines what needs to be understood is significant, and should be considered carefully prior to analysis. Depending on whether the object of interest is quantification of the MP particles in the sample, or merely a quick estimate of sample contamination with plastics, the appropriate method must be selected. To obtain overall information about MP in environmental samples, the combination of several parallel approaches should be considered.

Anna M. Elert, Roland Becker, Erik Duemichen and al., Environmental Pollution, Volume 231, Part 2, December 2017, Pages 1256-1264

The article

Transport of microplastics in coastal seas

Microplastic pollution of the marine environment has received increasing attention from scientists, the public, and policy makers over the last few years. Marine microplastics predominantly originate near the coast and can remain in the nearshore zone for some time. However, at present, there is little understanding of the fate and transport of microplastics in coastal regions. This paper provides a comprehensive overview of the physical processes involved in the movement of microplastics from estuaries to the continental shelf. The trajectory and speed of microplastics are controlled by their physical characteristics (density, size, and shape) and ocean dynamic conditions (wind, waves, tides, thermohaline gradients, and the influence of benthic sediments). Microplastic particles can be subjected to beaching, surface drifting, vertical mixing, and biofouling, as well as bed-load and suspended load transport processes, until reaching terminal deposition on beaches, in coastal marshes, in benthic sediments or until they are carried by ocean currents to subtropical convergence zones. The dynamic interaction of released microplastics with the shoreline is regulated by onshore/offshore transport, which is impacted by the source location as well as the geometry, vegetation, tidal regime, and wave direction. Wind and wave conditions dominate surface drifting of buoyant particles through Ekman drift, windage, and Stokes drift mechanisms. Neustic microplastic particles travel in the subsurface because of vertical mixing through wind-driven Langmuir circulation and heat cycling. Increasing accumulation of microplastics in benthic sediments needs to be quantitatively explored in terms of biofouling, deposition, entrainment, and transport dynamics. Further studies are required to understand the following: 1) the primary parameters (e.g., windage, terminal velocity, diffusivity, critical shear stress) that determine microplastic transport in different pathways; 2) dynamic distribution of microplastics in various coastal landscapes (e.g., wetlands, beaches, estuaries, lagoons, barrier islands, depocenters) regulated by hydrodynamic conditions; and 3) interactions between the physical transport processes and biochemical reactions (degradation, flocculation, biofouling, ingestions).

Hua Zhang, Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, Volume 199, 5 December 2017, Pages 74-86

The article