High abundances of microplastic pollution in deep-sea sediments: evidence from Antarctica and the Southern Ocean

Plastic pollution in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean has been recorded in scientific literature since the 1980s; however, the presence of microplastic particles (<5 mm) is less understood. Here, we aimed to determine whether microplastic accumulation would vary among Antarctic and Southern Ocean regions through studying 30 deep-sea sediment cores. Additionally, we aimed to highlight whether microplastic accumulation was related to sample depth or the sediment characteristics within each core. Sediment cores were digested and separated using a high-density sodium polytungstate solution (SPT) and microplastic particles were identified using micro-Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (μFTIR). Microplastic pollution was found in 93% of the sediment cores (28/30). The mean (±SE) microplastics per gram of sediment was 1.30 ± 0.51, 1.09 ± 0.22, and 1.04 ± 0.39 MP/g, for the Antarctic Peninsula, South Sandwich Islands, and South Georgia, respectively. Microplastic fragment accumulation correlated significantly with the percentage of clay within cores, suggesting that microplastics have similar dispersion behavior to low density sediments. Although no difference in microplastic abundance was found among regions, the values were much higher in comparison to less remote ecosystems, suggesting that the Antarctic and Southern Ocean deep-sea accumulates higher numbers of microplastic pollution than previously expected.


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Authors: Cunningham, Eoghan M., Ehlers, Sonja M., Dick, Jaimie T.A., Sigwart, Julia D., Linse, Katrin ORCIDORCID record for Katrin Linse, Dick, Jon J., Kiriakoulakis, Konstadinos

On this site: Katrin Linse
3 November, 2020
Environmental Science & Technology / 54
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