Popular science article covering our research into microplastics on the deep seafloor
Discover Magazine: Deep Ocean Pollution: The Unseen Plastic Problem
Not only is plastic ubiquitous in your everyday life, it’s even accumulating in the most remote parts of the world: it’s believed that the other 99 percent of plastic entering our oceans lies in the deep ocean, or the depth at which light starts to fade.
While you might’ve expected the surface of the water to contain the greatest amount of plastic considering that it floats, the deep-sea zone, or midwater, located 180 to 460 meters below the surface, actually contains the most amount of microplastic waste — about four times as much as that found on the surface.
Scientists even discovered the existence of microplastic hotspots on the ocean floor, formed by bottom currents that function like a conveyor belt to move tiny pieces of plastic around. According to a study published in Science last year, one hotspot in the Tyrrhenian Sea, a part of the Mediterranean Sea, held nearly two million fragments of microplastics within one square meter.
The same conveyor belt currents that inadvertently help to form microplastic hotspots on the ocean floor also transport nutrients and oxygenated water, which indicates that these deep-sea plastic patches form in the same places as key ecosystems filled with marine life. “We were shocked at the high concentrations of microplastics we found in the deep-seafloor,” Ian Kane, a geologist at The University of Manchester and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “We discovered that microplastics are not uniformly distributed across the study area; instead they are distributed by powerful seafloor currents which concentrate them in certain areas.”