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Nanoplastics Are Changing Everything We Know About Ocean Plastic

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What’s smaller than microplastics? Nanoplastics. These plastic pieces are so tiny, researchers are employing criminal forensics to understand their impacts on our ocean environment.
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Scientists are finding a whole new type of plastic that is even smaller than microplastics—nanoplastics.

Nanoplastics are smaller than one-thousandth of a millimeter, and so to count something that small and figure out the impact it’s having on our ocean environment, researchers are having to get creative with their detective work.

French researcher Alexandra Ter Halle and her team use actual crime scene forensic techniques to find the nanoplastics in ocean water. They take samples, ignite them into a gas, and shoot them with electrons causing the nanoplastics to transfer an electric charge, which the researchers can then measure to learn more about what kinds of nanoplastics are present in the samples.

But not everyone thinks sampling on a small scale is the best approach. Some ocean experts think that the key to better understanding nanoplastics is modeling. The Tracking of Plastic in Our Seas Project uses present knowledge of the tides, currents, and wind patterns to predict the surface paths that plastic would follow.

Since the team is not only interested in modeling surface plastic, but also the plastic beneath the waves, their models include simulations of plastic fragmentation, sinking, beaching, wave-mixing, and animal ingestion into the equation.

Find out more about the different ways researchers are working to track and learn more about nanoplastics in this Elements.

#nanoplastic #pollution #ocean #oceanpollution #science #climate #seeker #elements


Read More:
The missing 99%: why can't we find the vast majority of ocean plastic?
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/dec/31/ocean-plastic-we-cant-see
"Every year, 8m tons of plastic enters the ocean. Images of common household waste swirling in vast garbage patches in the open sea, or tangled up with whales and seabirds, have turned plastic pollution into one of the most popular environmental issues in the world."

What are microplastics?
https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html
"Microplastics are small plastic pieces less than five millimeters long which can be harmful to our ocean and aquatic life."

Creating a 3D map of the plastic litter polluting our oceans
http://topios.org/#whatistopios
"TOPIOS (Tracking Of Plastic In Our Seas) is a 5-year (2017-2022) research project, funded through a European Research Council Starting Grant project to Erik van Sebille."
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