A global inventory of small floating plastic debris

Type Article
Date 2015-12
Language English
Author(s) Van Sebille Erik1, 2, 3, Wilcox Chris4, Lebreton Laurent5, Maximenko Nikolai6, Hardesty Britta Denise4, Van Franeker Jan A.7, Eriksen Marcus8, Siegel David9, 10, Galgani FrancoisORCID11, Law Kara Lavender12
Affiliation(s) 1 : Univ London Imperial Coll Sci Technol & Med, Grantham Inst, London, England.
2 : Univ London Imperial Coll Sci Technol & Med, Dept Phys, London, England.
3 : Univ New S Wales, ARC Ctr Excellence Climate Syst Sci, Climate Change Res Ctr, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
4 : CSIRO Oceans & Atmosphere Flagship, Hobart, Tas, Australia.
5 : Dumpk Data Sci, Wellington, New Zealand.
6 : Univ Hawaii Manoa, Sch Ocean & Earth Sci & Technol, Int Pacific Res Ctr, Honolulu, HI USA.
7 : Wageningen UR, IMARES, Den Burg, Texel, Netherlands.
8 : Five Gyres Inst, Los Angeles, CA USA.
9 : Univ Calif Santa Barbara, Dept Geog, Santa Barbara, CA 93106 USA.
10 : Univ Calif Santa Barbara, Earth Res Inst, Santa Barbara, CA 93106 USA.
11 : IFREMER, Bastia, France.
12 : Sea Educ Assoc, Woods Hole, MA USA.
Source Environmental Research Letters (1748-9326) (Iop Publishing Ltd), 2015-12 , Vol. 12 , N. 12 , P. -
DOI 10.1088/1748-9326/10/12/124006
WOS© Times Cited 901
Keyword(s) marine debris, ocean circulation, model comparison
Abstract Microplastic debris floating at the ocean surface can harm marine life. Understanding the severity of this harm requires knowledge of plastic abundance and distributions. Dozens of expeditions measuring microplastics have been carried out since the 1970s, but they have primarily focused on the North Atlantic and North Pacific accumulation zones, with much sparser coverage elsewhere. Here, we use the largest dataset of microplastic measurements assembled to date to assess the confidence we can have in global estimates of microplastic abundance and mass. We use a rigorous statistical framework to standardize a global dataset of plastic marine debris measured using surface-trawling plankton nets and coupled this with three different ocean circulation models to spatially interpolate the observations. Our estimates show that the accumulated number of microplastic particles in 2014 ranges from 15 to 51 trillion particles, weighing between 93 and 236 thousand metric tons, which is only approximately 1% of global plastic waste estimated to enter the ocean in the year 2010. These estimates are larger than previous global estimates, but vary widely because the scarcity of data in most of the world ocean, differences in model formulations, and fundamental knowledge gaps in the sources, transformations and fates of microplastics in the ocean.
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