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Small microplastics as a main contributor to plastic mass balance in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre

Poulain, Marie and Mercier, Matthieu and Brach, Laurent and Martignac, Marion and Routaboul, Corinne and Perez, Emile and Desjean, Marie Christine and Ter Halle, Alexandra Small microplastics as a main contributor to plastic mass balance in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre. (2019) Environmental Science & Technology, 53 (3). 1157-1164. ISSN 0013-936X

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.8b05458

Abstract

Estimates of cumulative plastic inputs into the oceans are expressed in hundred million tons, whereas the total mass of microplastics afloat at sea is 3 orders of magnitude below this. This large gap is evidence of our ignorance about the fate of plastics, as well as transformations and sinks in the oceans. One of the current challenges consists of identifying and quantifying plastic particles at the microscale, the small microplastics (SMP, 25–1000 μm). The aim of the present study is to investigate SMP concentration in count and in mass at the sea surface in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre during the sea campaign Expedition 7th Continent. After isolation, SMP were characterized by micro-Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy. Microplastic distribution was modeled by a wind-driven vertical mixing correction model taking into account individual particle properties (dimension, shape and density). We demonstrate that SMP buoyancy is significantly decreased compared to the large microplastics (LMP, 1–5 mm) and consequently more susceptible to vertical transport. The uncorrected LMP concentration in count was between 13 000 and 174 000 pieces km–2, and was between 5 and 170 times more abundant for SMP. With a wind-driven vertical mixing correction, we estimated that SMP were 300 to 70 000 times more abundant than LMP. When discussing this in terms of weight after correction, LMP concentrations were between 50 and 1000 g km–2, and SMP concentrations were between 5 and 14 000 g km–2.

Item Type:Article
Audience (journal):International peer-reviewed journal
Uncontrolled Keywords:
Institution:French research institutions > Centre National d'Études Spatiales - CNES (FRANCE)
French research institutions > Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - CNRS (FRANCE)
Université de Toulouse > Institut National Polytechnique de Toulouse - INPT (FRANCE)
Université de Toulouse > Université Toulouse III - Paul Sabatier - UPS (FRANCE)
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Deposited By: Matthieu MERCIER
Deposited On:14 Mar 2019 14:58

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