Wasting the North Sea? - A field-based assessment of anthropogenic macrolitter loads and emission rates of three German tributaries
Date of publication 29 June 2020
Authors Schöneich-Argent, Rosanna Isabel; Dau, Kirsten; Freund, Holger.
Sources Environmental pollution (Barking, Essex : 1987) : 263 (DocId: Pt B) 114367.
Research into the scope of litter pollution in freshwater systems has shown similar levels to the marine and coastal environment. Global model estimates of riverine emission rates of anthropogenic litter are largely based on microplastic studies as long-term and holistic observations of riverine macroplastics are still scarce. This study therefore aims to contribute a detailed assessment of macrolitter in the transitional waters of three major North Sea tributaries: Ems, Weser, and Elbe. Litter surveys were carried out in four river compartments: along the embankment, on the river surface, in the water column, and on the river bed. The data revealed spatio-temporal variability and distinct pollution levels for each compartment. Beaches had the highest debris diversity and were significantly more littered than vegetated sites and harbors. Stony embankments were least polluted. Benthic litter levels appeared substantial despite rapid burial of objects being likely due to high suspended sediment loads. Two extrapolation approaches were tested to scale daily and annual litter emission quantities of surface- and subsurface-floating litter. Using the mean (median) litter item mass from water column samples, total annual mass discharges were calculated: ∼0.9 (0.2) t y-1 to ∼2.8 (0.5) t y-1 emitted via the Ems, ∼1.3 (0.2) t y-1 to ∼12.0 (1.9) t y-1 through the Weser, and ∼14.7 (2.4) t y-1 to ∼801 (128) t y-1 carried into the North Sea by the Elbe. These rates deviate considerably from previous model estimates of plastic loads discharged by these three rivers. Future studies should therefore ground-truth model estimates with more river-specific and long-term field observations. Overall, the estimated plastic debris discharge quantities account for <1% of the total mass of mismanaged plastic waste per catchment.