Transport of marine microplastic particles: why is it so difficult to predict?

Date of publication 5 August 2019

Authors Khatmullina, Liliya; Chubarenko, Irina.

Sources Anthropocene Coasts : 2 (DocId: 1) 293–305.



Marine microplastic particles (MPs, <5 mm) exhibit wide ranges of densities, sizes, and shapes, so that the entire MPs "ensemble" at every time instant can be characterized by continuous distributions of these parameters. Accordingly, this community of particles demonstrates distributions of dynamical properties, such as sinking or rising velocity, critical shear stress, and the re-suspension threshold. Moreover, all the MPs' properties vary significantly with the time spent in marine environment and with particular conditions experienced by the particle on its journey. A brief review of the present-day numerical efforts towards prediction of MPs transport shows the prevalence of the Lagrangian particle tracking approach, especially for floating litter. In a broader context, the present practice of MPs transport modelling follows the "selective" strategy (e.g., only a certain sub-class of MPs, or specific processes, are considered, sometimes in only one- or two-dimensional setting). The heterogeneous nature of MPs, their enormous longevity and movability in marine environment, and the wide spectrum of the involved environmental processes suggest further integration (or coupling) of different models in future, as well as application of other types of models (ensemble modeling, chaos theory approaches, machine learning, etc.) to the problems of MPs transport and fate in the marine environment.

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