Microplastics in the Weddell Sea (Antarctica): A Forensic Approach for Discrimination between Environmental and Vessel-Induced Microplastics
November 2021, article in peer-reviewed journal
Environmental Science and Technology
Microplastic (MP) pollution has been found in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica, but many local regions within this vast area remain uninvestigated. The remote Weddell Sea contributes to the global thermohaline circulation, and one of the two Antarctic gyres is located in that region. In the present study, we evaluate MP (>300 μm) concentration and composition in surface (n = 34) and subsurface water samples (n = 79, ∼11.2 m depth) of the Weddell Sea. All putative MP were analyzed by attenuated total reflection Fourier transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectroscopy. MP was found in 65% of surface and 11.4% of subsurface samples, with mean (±standard deviation (SD)) concentrations of 0.01 (±0.01 SD) MP m–3 and 0.04 (±0.1 SD) MP m–3, respectively, being within the range of previously reported values for regions south of the Polar Front. Additionally, we aimed to determine whether identified paint fragments (n = 394) derive from the research vessel. Environmentally sampled fragments (n = 101) with similar ATR-FTIR spectra to reference paints from the research vessel and fresh paint references generated in the laboratory were further subjected to micro-X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (μXRF) to compare their elemental composition. This revealed that 45.5% of all recovered MP derived from vessel-induced contamination. However, 11% of the measured fragments could be distinguished from the reference paints via their elemental composition. This study demonstrates that differentiation based purely on visual characteristics and FTIR spectroscopy might not be sufficient for accurately determining sample contamination sources.