More plastic waste enters the ocean than is found floating on its surface. But where is the “missing plastic” hiding? Here, researchers looked for it deeper in the water. They sampled the North Atlantic Ocean’s plastic pollution zone and found microplastic pieces as far as 1,968 feet below the sea’s surface. The particles’ abundance was associated with sticky gels exuded by microorganisms, which the researchers hypothesize would drive movement into the deep ocean.
Here, these researchers concluded that sunlight could change microplastics’ properties. After exposure to artificial sunlight, 60 µm-wide polyethene spheres no longer floated at the water’s surface and instead sank below the surface. In addition, the spheres adsorbed positively charged pollutants, such as malachite green and lead ions, which they didn’t stick to before the exposure. The team says that these findings prove why microplastics are found on the seafloor and that their settling could shuttle pollutants from the surface to the deep ocean, magnifying the particles’ potential negative effects.
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