Kvale, K.; Prowe, A. E. F.; Chien, C.-T.; Landolfi, A.; Oschlies, A.
Scientific reports : 10 (DocId: 1)
Every year, about four percent of the plastic waste generated worldwide ends up in the ocean. What happens to the plastic there is poorly understood, though a growing body of evidence suggests it is rapidly spreading throughout the global ocean. The mechanisms of this spread are straightforward for buoyant larger plastics that can be accurately modelled using Lagrangian particle models. But the fate of the smallest size fractions (the microplastics) are less straightforward, in part because they can aggregate in sinking marine snow and faecal pellets. This biologically-mediated pathway is suspected to be a primary surface microplastic removal mechanism, but exactly how it might work in the real ocean is unknown. We search the parameter space of a new microplastic model embedded in an earth system model to show that biological uptake can significantly shape global microplastic inventory and distributions and even account for the budgetary “missing” fraction of surface microplastic, despite being an inefficient removal mechanism. While a lack of observational data hampers our ability to choose a set of “best” model parameters, our effort represents a first tool for quantitatively assessing hypotheses for microplastic interaction with ocean biology at the global scale.