Spatial distribution of microplastics in sediments and surface waters of the southern North Sea


Microplastic pollution within the marine environment is of pressing concern globally. Accordingly, spatial monitoring of microplastic concentrations, composition and size distribution may help to identify sources and entry pathways, and hence allow initiating focused mitigation. Spatial distribution patterns of microplastics were investigated in two compartments of the southern North Sea by collecting sublittoral sediment and surface water samples from 24 stations. Large microplastics (500−5000 μm) were detected visually and identified using attenuated total reflection (ATR) Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy. The remaining sample was digested enzymatically, concentrated onto filters and analyzed for small microplastics (11−500 μm) using Focal Plane Array (FPA) FTIR imaging. Microplastics were detected in all samples with concentrations ranging between 2.8 and 1188.8 particles kg−1 for sediments and 0.1–245.4 particles m−3 for surface waters. On average 98% of microplastics were <100 μm in sediments and 86% in surface waters. The most prevalent polymer types in both compartments were polypropylene, acrylates/polyurethane/varnish, and polyamide. However, polymer composition differed significantly between sediment and surface water samples as well as between the Frisian Islands and the English Channel sites. These results show that microplastics are not evenly distributed, in neither location nor size, which is illuminating regarding the development of monitoring protocols.
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