March 2023, article in peer-reviewed journal
PNAS Nexus

Shiye Zhao, Tracy J Mincer, Laurent Lebreton and Matthias Egger

  • Publication journal: PNAS Nexus
  • Publication type: Accepted manuscript
  • Publication date: 09 March 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/pnasnexus/pgad070
  • Collaborators: Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JP), Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Florida Atlantic University (USA), Department of Biology, Wilkes Honors College, Florida Atlantic University (USA), The Ocean Cleanup (NL), The Modelling House (NZ), Egger Research and Consulting (CH)


Due to its ever-increasing ocean inputs, fossil-based microplastics (MP) comprise a considerable constituent in the particulate organic carbon (POC) pool, which is instrumental in ocean biogeochemical cycling. Their distribution within the oceanic water column and the underpinning processes, however, remain unclear. Here we show that MP prevail throughout the water column of the eastern North Pacific subtropical gyre, comprising 334 #/m3 (84.5% of plastic particles <100 μm), with exponential relationships between concentrations and water depth in the upper 500-m layer and marked accumulation below this layer. Our results suggest that the biological carbon pump (BCP) strongly contributes to the water-column MP redistribution in terms of polymer type, material density and particle size, which in turn could influence the efficiency of organic matter export to the deep sea. We further show that 14C-depleted plastic particles predictably are an emerging non-neglectable perturbation to radiocarbon signatures in the deep ocean through depletion of the 14C/C ratio in the POC pool. Our data provide insight into vertical MP flux and highlight the potential role of MP in alternating the marine particulate pool and interactions with the BCP.

  • Biological carbon pump, Marine particulate pool, Microplastic, North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, Vertical distribution