Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans has received much attention, but there has been increasing concern about the high concentrations of plastic debris in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Using census data and methodologies used to study ocean debris we derive a first estimate of 9887 metric tonnes per year of plastic debris entering the Great Lakes. These estimates are translated into population-dependent particle inputs which are advected using currents from a hydrodynamic model to map the spatial distribution of plastic debris in the Great Lakes. Model results compare favorably with previously published sampling data. The samples are used to calibrate the model to derive surface microplastic mass estimates of 0.0211 metric tonnes in Lake Superior, 1.44 metric tonnes in Huron, and 4.41 metric tonnes in Erie. These results have many applications, including informing cleanup efforts, helping target pollution prevention, and understanding the inter-state or international flows of plastic pollution.
Matthew J. Hoffman, Eric Hittinger, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 115, Issues 1–2, 15 February 2017, Pages 273–281