A critical assessment of visual identification of marine microplastic using Raman spectroscopy for analysis improvement

Identification and characterisation of microplastic (MP) is a necessary step to evaluate their concentrations, chemical composition and interactions with biota. MP ≥ 10 μm diameter filtered from below the sea surface in the European and subtropical North Atlantic were simultaneously identified by visual microscopy and Raman micro-spectroscopy. Visually identified particles below 100 μm had a significantly lower percentage confirmed by Raman than larger ones indicating that visual identification alone is inappropriate for studies on small microplastics. Sixty-eight percent of visually counted MP (n = 1279) were spectroscopically confirmed being plastic. The percentage varied with type, colour and size of the MP. Fibres had a higher success rate (75%) than particles (64%). We tested Raman micro-spectroscopy applicability for MP identification with respect to varying chemical composition (additives), degradation state and organic matter coating. Partially UV-degraded post-consumer plastics provided identifiable Raman spectra for polymers most common among marine MP, i.e. polyethylene and polypropylene.

Robin Lenz, Kristina Enders, Colin A. Stedmon, David M.A. Mackenzie, Torkel Gissel Nielsen, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 100, Issue 1, Pages 82–91, 15 November 2015

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