Emission, atmospheric transport and deposition of microplastics

Microplastics (MP) are an emerging contaminant, with significant MP found from Oceans to remote terrestrial locations and potential (in)direct effects on ecosystem health. The quantity of MP polluting the terrestrial environment is unknown, with knowledge gaps in the global MP mass balance and understanding how MP are transported to terrestrial ecosystems. The ATMO-PLASTIC project will therefore investigate the role of the atmosphere in global MP cycling.

Quantify past and ongoing atmospheric MP abundance, transport and deposition

Preliminary studies on MP in the atmosphere, in wet deposition (rain and snowfall) and in soils indicate that the atmosphere may play an important role in disseminating MP across the globe, including to remote areas such as the Arctic. The ATMO-PLASTIC project’s main objective is to fill this knowledge gap in what is known about atmospheric MPs by systematically quantifying the global extent of MPs and the factors that control atmospheric MP abundances. We will analyze aerosol samples from 9 global sites, and 4 oceanographic expeditions. We recently showed that wind-driven sea spray formation is a likely marine MP source to both long-range marine and terrestrial MP transport. Here we also hypothesize that urban-industrial-agricultural activities are terrestrial MP emission hotspots and we will further investigate and estimate these emission sources. Furthermore, by analyzing natural peat archives of atmospheric deposition in both southern and northern hemispheres, we intend to broadly characterize the timing and extent of past MP deposition and emission.