Rapid aggregation of biofilm-covered microplastics with marine biogenic particles


Ocean plastic pollution has resulted in a substantial accumulation of microplastics in the marine environment. Today, this plastic litter is ubiquitous in the oceans, including even remote habitats such as deep-sea sediments and polar sea ice, and it is believed to pose a threat to ecosystem health. However, the concentration of microplastics in the surface layer of the oceans is considerably lower than expected, given the ongoing replenishment of microplastics and the tendency of many plastic types to float. It has been hypothesized that microplastics leave the upper ocean by aggregation and subsequent sedimentation. We tested this hypothesis by investigating the interactions of microplastics with marine biogenic particles collected in the southwestern Baltic Sea. Our laboratory experiments revealed a large potential of microplastics to rapidly coagulate with biogenic particles, which substantiates this hypothesis. Together with the biogenic particles, the microplastics efficiently formed pronounced aggregates within a few days. The aggregation of microplastics and biogenic particles was significantly accelerated by microbial biofilms that had formed on the plastic surfaces. We assume that the demonstrated aggregation behaviour facilitates the export of microplastics from the surface layer of the oceans and plays an important role in the redistribution of microplastics in the oceans.
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