Microplastic abundance and distribution in the ocean
Most plastic debris collected in our surface-towing plankton nets consists of microplastics, or plastic particles smaller than 5 millimeters in size. Microplastics include easily identifiable industrial resin pellets, the “raw material” of plastic products sometimes referred to as “nurdles”, and fragments of plastic created when larger items break apart upon exposure to sunlight and weathering in the environment.
Microplastic measurements from more than 14,000 plankton net tows have been used to map their distribution in the ocean. Microplastics are transported by surface ocean currents and accumulate in the center of the ocean gyres of the North Atlantic, North Pacific, and other subtropical ocean basins. SEA’s decades-long time series in the western North Atlantic and eastern North Pacific Oceans also allow investigation of time trends in floating plastic abundance in the regions where they accumulate.
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