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Millions of tonnes of plastic waste are transported by rivers, by wind and in waste water into the sea, where the plastic remains. "To date, there are no detailed data on where plastic accumulates and how much," says UFZ environmental chemist, Dr. Annika Jahnke. Previous estimates rely on computer modelling, individual data and observations from the air. "We want to provide substantiation for these estimates and to find out what happens to the plastic in the ocean and which effects microplastic has on the environment," Jahnke explains.
At the UFZ, the environmental chemist heads the MICRO-FATE project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), which will run until 2021 and also includes researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems (IKTS), the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research, Warnemünde (IOW) and Stockholm University (SU) in Sweden. On 30 May, a team comprising 18 MICRO-FATE researchers are setting off from Vancouver (Canada) on an expedition across the Pacific Ocean. The team on board the research vessel Sonne, scheduled to arrive in Singapore on 5July, will consist mainly of biologists, ecotoxicologists and environmental chemists. They will take samples at several stations along the passage not only in the North Pacific Garbage Patch, one of the largest accumulation areas of floating waste in the Pacific Ocean, but also at less polluted locations.
Researchers - Objectives - Samples - Surface - Water
One of the researchers' primary objectives is to collect samples from the surface water, the water column and from the seabed. "To date, the water column has been insufficiently studied," explains Annika Jahnke. Hence, the researchers hope to find out more about the vertical distribution of the plastic particles and to identify potential gradients with regard to concentration, composition, age and coverage with biofilms.
An analysis of the samples from the seabed is also expected to provide information on...
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