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Microplastic samples collected from the North Atlantic during the eXXpedition Round the World voyage (Credit: Sophie Dingwall)

The waters of the North Atlantic gyre contain significantly greater quantities of plastic – composed of polymers arising from packaging, rope, and paint particles – than other areas of the open ocean, according to new research.

One of the planet’s five great oceanic gyres, manmade marine debris becomes trapped in a circular ocean current that stretches from the east coasts of North America to the west coasts of Europe and Africa.

A new study, published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, has found it contains higher levels of polyethylene, polypropylene, acrylic, and polyamide, whereas other offshore locations are more associated with PVC and polystyrene.

Seawater closer to land, on the other hand, contains far more diversity in its polymer composition, with researchers saying this could potentially be influenced by its proximity to a variety of sources of plastics arising from land.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Plymouth, Mercator-Océan International, and eXXpedition, with samples collected during eXXpedition's pioneering all-women Round the World sailing mission.

Its findings are based on almost 30 samples taken across the Atlantic Ocean, enabling scientists to examine variations in microplastic concentration and types within the upper ocean, both on the surface and to a depth of 25 metres.

The overall aim of the research was to provide further data of plastic quantities in the region, and also to cover parts of the ocean where existing data was sparse, such as the eastern boundary of the North Atlantic gyre.


More at University of Plymouth Press Office