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Large quantities of small microplastics permeate the surface ocean to abyssal depths in the South Atlantic Gyre
Zhao, S.; Zettler, E.R.; Bos, R.P.; Lin, P.; Amaral-Zettler, L.; Mincer, T.J. (2022). Large quantities of small microplastics permeate the surface ocean to abyssal depths in the South Atlantic Gyre. Glob. Chang. Biol. 28(9): 2991-3006.
In: Global Change Biology. Blackwell Publishers: Oxford. ISSN 1354-1013; e-ISSN 1365-2486, meer
Peer reviewed article  

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Author keywords
    FTIR imaging; in-situ pump; microplastics; plastic marine debris; South Atlantic Gyre; water column

Auteurs  Top 
  • Zhao, S.
  • Zettler, E.R., meer
  • Bos, R.P.
  • Lin, P.
  • Amaral-Zettler, L., meer
  • Mincer, T.J.

    Hundreds of studies have surveyed plastic debris in surface ocean gyre and convergence zones, however, comprehensive microplastics (MP, ≤5 mm)assessments beneath these surface accumulation areas are lacking. Using in-situ high-volume filtration, Manta net and MultiNet sampling, combined with micro-Fourier-transform-infrared imaging, we discovered a high abundance (up to 244.3 pieces per cubic meter [n m-3]) of small microplastics (SMP, characteristically <100 μm) from the surface to near-sea floor waters of the remote South Atlantic Subtropical Gyre. Large horizontal and vertical variations in the abundances of SMP were observed, displaying inverse vertical trends in some cases. SMP abundances in pump samples were over 2 orders of magnitude higher than large microplastics (LMP, >300 μm) concurrently collected in MultiNet samples. Higher density polymers (e.g., alkyd resins and polyamide) comprised >65% of the total pump sample count, highlighting a discrepancy between polymer compositions from previous ocean surface-based surveys, typically dominated by buoyant polymers such as polyethylene and polypropylene. Contrary to previous reports stating LMP preferentially accumulated at density gradients, SMP with presumably slower sinking rates are much less influenced by density gradients, thus resulting in a more even vertical distribution in the water column, and potentially longer residence times. Overall, our findings suggest that SMP is a critical and largely underexplored constituent of the oceanic plastic inventory. Additionally, our data support that weak current systems contribute to the formation of SMP hotspots at depth, implying a higher encounter rate for subsurface particle feeders. Our study unveils the prevalence of plastics in the entire water column, highlighting the urgency for more quantification of the deep-ocean MP, particularly the smaller size fraction, to better understand ecosystem exposure and to predict MP fate and impacts.

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