A new article in the May issue of Geology summarizes research on plastic waste in marine and sedimentary environments. Authors IA Kane from Univ. de Manchester and A. Fildani of the Deep Time Institute write that “Environmental pollution caused by uncontrolled human activity is occurring on a vast and unprecedented scale around the world. Among the various forms of anthropogenic pollution, the release of plastic into nature, and in particular the oceans, is one of the most recent and visible effects ”.
The authors cite several studies, including one in the May issue of Guangfa Zhong and Xiaotong Peng, discussed in a previous GSA article (Jan. 26, 2021). Zhong and Peng were surprised to find plastic waste in a deep-water submarine canyon in the northwestern South China Sea.
“Plastic is generally considered to be the dominant component of marine litter, due to its durability and the large volume produced,” write Kane and Fildani. “Nanoplastics and microplastics are a particularly insidious form of anthropogenic pollutant: tiny fragments and fibers may be invisible to the naked eye, but they are ingested with the food and water we consume and absorbed into the flesh of organisms. “
One of their vital questions is, “If some plastics can survive over 1,000 years in terrestrial environments, how long do they last in ocean trenches miles deep, dark, cold, and high pressure?” How long does it take for microplastics to decompose into microplastics and nanoplastics in the deep sea? “
“While the onus is on policy makers to take action now to protect the oceans from further damage, we recognize the roles geoscientists can play,” Kane and Fildani write. This includes using their deep-time perspective to address societal challenges, their understanding of the current distribution on the seabed and in sedimentary records, the use of geoscientific techniques to record the downstream effects of the efforts of mitigation and to predict the future of the seabed. plastics.
In summary, they write: “We understand … the transient nature of the stratigraphic recording and its surprising preservation, and the unique geochemical environments found in seabed sediments. Our source-sink approach to unraveling land-sea links can identify the sources and pathways that plastics take as they pass through natural habitats and identify the context in which they are ultimately sequestered, as well as the ecosystems they affect. . This will be done by working closely with oceanographers, biologists, chemists and others who are tackling the global pollution problem. “
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