Science 3 min read

Researchers Discover New Ocean Plastics Detection Method

Rich Carey /

Rich Carey /

Humanity dumps millions of tonnes of plastic into the ocean every year.

According to reports, between 4 – 12 million tonnes of plastic enters the world’s ocean annually. However, only a tiny fraction of the number – about 250 thousand tonnes – remains visible on the surface.

Where does all the Earth’s missing ocean plastics go, you wonder?

That’s the big mystery scientists are trying to solve. Now, a team of researchers is on a quest to track down one of the most polluting materials ever invented.

Ocean plastics degrade through a combination of UV light, erosion and microbial decay. As a result, the density undergoes changes – they become light enough to be controlled by ocean currents.

While tracking the plastic is relatively easy at first, it becomes more difficult as they go deeper into the water.

In a statement to AFP, a graduate student at the Newcastle University ’s School of Natural and Environmental Sciences and lead researcher, Alethea Mountford said: 

“It’s quite difficult to decide where it all is because there are so many processes at work. Even plastic at the surface can sink and go back up again — it’s moving between different possible sinks in different areas of the ocean at any time.”

So, how did the scientists track down the ocean plastics?

Using Computer Modelling To Track Earth’s Missing Ocean Plastics

Using a computer model of ocean currents, Mountford was able to predict where plastics of three different densities collect when they start to sink.

According to the model, the plastics build up at a specific depth which varies with the body of water.

Earlier this year, researchers discovered in a separate study that microplastic fibers collect in the guts of tiny shrimps that are found at the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench.

While the researcher stressed that the work was preliminary, the findings serve as a framework for further studies. Scientists can analyze the effect of plastics on marine life in the identified ocean areas.

Mountford’s work draws from a previous study by an associate professor in Oceanography and Climate Change at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, Eric van Sebille.

According to the associate professor, plastic population researches tend to focus more on the fragments that remain on the surface. While this is not a bad thing, van Sebille believes taking a more in-depth approach to the research would be better.

Speaking to AFP, van Sebille said:

We know the most about the garbage patches, so it makes sense to focus on them… But if you want to understand the complete problem, then we need to get a deeper view.”

Read More: Why Bioplastics are Only a Partial Solution

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Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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    Shannon Harrington April 14 at 11:27 am GMT

    A lot of solutions we’re trying to develop by Technology. These are very useful for all the environment enthusiasts or else we might end up with a pound of plastic.

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