Impacts of Changing Ocean Circulation on the Distribution of Marine Microplastic Litter

Welden, Natalie A.C. and Lusher, Amy L. (2017). Impacts of Changing Ocean Circulation on the Distribution of Marine Microplastic Litter. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management, 13(3) pp. 483–487.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/ieam.1911

Abstract

Marine plastic pollution is currently a major scientific focus, with attention paid to its distribution and impacts within ecosystems. With recent estimates indicating that the mass of plastic released to the marine environment may reach 250 million metric tons by 2025, the effects of plastic on our oceans are set to increase. Distribution of microplastics, those plastics measuring less than 5 mm, are of increasing concern because they represent an increasing proportion of marine litter and are known to interact with species in a range of marine habitats. The local abundance of microplastic is dependent on a complex interaction between the scale of local plastic sources and prevailing environmental conditions; as a result, microplastic distribution is highly heterogeneous. Circulation models have been used to predict plastic distribution; however, current models do not consider future variation in circulation patterns and weather systems caused by a changing climate. In this study, we discuss the potential impacts of global climate change on the abundance and distribution of marine plastic pollution.

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