Deep sea sediments of the Arctic Central Basin: A potential sink for microplastics

Kanhai, L.D.K.a, c, Johansson, C.b, Frias, J.P.G.L.c, Gardfeldt, K.d, Thompson, R.C.e, and O’Connor, I.c

a Department of Life Sciences, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago
b Department of Geological Sciences, Stockholm University, Sweden
c Marine and Freshwater Research Centre, Galway Mayo Institute of Technology, Dublin Road, Galway, Ireland
d Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Chalmers University of Technology, Göteborg SE-412 96, Sweden
e Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth, Devon PL4 8AA, United Kingdom

Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers cover

Deep sea sediments have emerged as a potential sink for microplastics in the marine environment. The discovery of microplastics in various environmental compartments of the Arctic Central Basin (ACB) suggested that these contaminants were potentially being transported to the deep-sea realm of this oceanic basin. For the first time, the present study conducted a preliminary assessment to determine whether microplastics were present in surficial sediments from the ACB. Gravity and piston corers were used to retrieve sediments from depths of 855–4353 m at 11 sites in the ACB during the Arctic Ocean 2016 (AO16) expedition. Surficial sediments from the various cores were subjected to density flotation with sodium tungstate dihydrate solution (Na2WO4·2H2O, density 1.4 g cm-3). Potential microplastics were isolated and analysed by Fourier Transform Infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy. Of the surficial samples, 7 of the 11 samples contained synthetic polymers which included polyester (n = 3), polystyrene (n = 2), polyacrylonitrile (n = 1), polypropylene (n = 1), polyvinyl chloride (n = 1) and polyamide (n = 1). Fibres (n = 5) and fragments (n = 4) were recorded in the samples. In order to avoid mis-interpretation, these findings must be taken in the context that (i) sampling equipment did not guarantee retrieval of undisturbed surficial sediments, (ii) low sample volumes were analysed (~10 g per site), (iii) replicate sediment samples per site was not possible, (iv) no air contamination checks were included during sampling and, (v) particles <100 µm were automatically excluded from analysis. While the present study provides preliminary indication that microplastics may be accumulating in the deep-sea realm of the ACB, further work is necessary to assess microplastic abundance, distribution and composition in surficial sediments of the ACB.

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