September 23, 2020

The Atlantic Ocean has more microplastics than previously thought


The microplastics accumulate in remote places like oceans. Assessing the ecological and environmental damages of this material is not an easy task, since a solid study of the environment is needed.

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Scientists from National Oceanography Center from Southampton (UK) have measured the three most abundant types of plastic in the upper ocean. His research, published in the magazine Nature Communications, indicates that the amount of this polluting material is much greater than what has been calculated so far.

“According to previous studies, in the last 65 years they have been dumped into the ocean Atlantic between 14 and 47 million tons of plastic trash in bulk (of all kinds). We detect between 12 and 21 million tons of only three types of plastic in a water range of 5% of the Atlantic surface (the first 200 meters; the average depth of the Atlantic is about 3.7 km) ”, he explains to SINC Katsiaryna Pabortsava, who leads the study with Richard S. Lampitt.

For the field work, the experts measured the plastic pollution in samples collected at 12 locations along 10,000 km, from north to south of the Atlantic Ocean. They then evaluated the abundance of polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene, which together account for more than half of the world’s plastic waste.

“We went out to the open sea in a research ship and covered the journey from the UK until Falkland Islands. In that sampling, we stopped at various locations to filter a large volume of seawater and collect marine particles, including microplastics. We then take those samples to our lab to use spectroscopy infrared imaging. In this way we quantify the concentrations and characterize the plastics in those samples. Subsequently, we compare this mass with previous estimates of the entry of plastic into the Atlantic since 1950 ”, explains the researcher.

Samples from three depths were collected at each station: 10 meters, 10 to 30 meters and 100 meters. The plastics were analyzed to a resolution of around 25 microns. In the ocean near the surface they detected up to 7,000 microplastic particles of these three types of polymers (32 to 651 microns in size) per cubic meter of seawater.

A constant dumping of plastic waste into the sea

According to trends plastic waste existing from 1950 to 2015, the Atlantic Ocean has received a constant global plastic waste fraction for 65 years. The authors of the work estimate that the plastics in the waters and sediments of the Atlantic are 17 to 47 million tons.

“Because they are present in these high concentrations in a very sensitive layer of the ocean, it is very critical to establish whether they cause fundamental damage to the ocean. Marine ecosystem and the current climate or if it is likely to happen in the future, ”emphasizes Pabortsava.

When the microplastic mass of the three sampled polymers was combined with previously calculated marine plastic reserves, they found that the total mass could exceed that which had been appreciated since these estimates were made in 1950.

“Microplastic contamination is a topic of great social concern and environmental because it has the potential to cause harm to the health of the oceans and ultimately human health. Further study is essential to address the fundamental questions of how much is supplied to the ocean, where and for how long it remains. We must recycle and dispose of waste properly (and have the opportunity to do so!) ”, He concludes.

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