Vertical flux of microplastic, a case study in the Southern Ocean, South Georgia
Estimated plastic debris floating at the ocean surface varies depending on modelling approaches, with some suggesting unaccounted sinks for marine plastic debris due to mismatches between plastic predicted to enter the ocean and that accounted for at the surface. A major knowledge gap relates to the vertical sinking of oceanic plastic. We used an array of floating sediment traps combined with optical microscopy and Raman spectroscopy to measure the microplastic flux between 50 and 150 m water depth over 24 h within a natural harbour of the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia. This region is influenced by fishing, tourism, and research activity. We found a 69 % decrease in microplastic flux from 50 m (306 pieces/m2/day) to 150 m (94pieces/m2/day). Our study confirms the occurrence of a vertical flux of microplastic in the upper water column of the Southern Ocean, which may influence zooplankton microplastic consumption and the carbon cycle.
Authors: Rowlands, Emily, Galloway, Tamara, Cole, Matthew, Peck, Victoria L. ORCID record for Victoria L. Peck, Posacka, Anna, Thorpe, Sally ORCID record for Sally Thorpe, Manno, Clara ORCID record for Clara Manno