New kit enables research into microplastics in the ocean

Polymers loaded into OPIC. Credit: Elisa Bergami

New equipment designed by British Antarctic Survey helps scientists study the impact of microplastics in the ocean. The Ocean Plastic Incubator Chamber (OPIC) exposes different types of plastic to oceanic conditions for predetermined periods of time to measure the rate of weathering. A lot of discarded plastic ends up in the ocean, where it stays, so it’s important to understand how plastic can affect the ecosystem.

The CUPIDO team boarded the Italian research vessel Dallaporta in March 2022 to deploy OPIC in the Adriatic Sea. Although marine plastics are persistent pollutants, they gradually erode through continuous vibration from flow, exposure to light and biodegradation by microorganisms. As this weathering changes plastic properties, including color, buoyancy and toxicity, it can affect how plastic permeates marine ecosystems.

Laboratory experiments investigating marine plastics usually use clean and pristine plastic samples, but weathering makes them different from oceanic samples. The team has deployed OPIC on a permanent mooring line at a depth of 250 meters, where it will expose a range of plastic polymers to real oceanic conditions. Once OPIC is retrieved next year, the data collected could enable the team to estimate the age of the plastics sampled from the ocean and the rate at which weathering changes their properties. From this they can deduce the likely impact on local ecosystems.

This kit has been designed for the CUPIDO UKRI FLF funded project which aims to investigate the impact of plastics in the oceans on marine ecosystems.

Clara Manno, principal investigator of CUPIDO, says that “OPIC will provide exciting new insights into how plastic changes over time when it is in the ocean. This is important because our knowledge of plastic degradation in a natural environment is still very limited. due to current technological limitations that are limiting our understanding of what happens to it (including its degradation into micro- and nanoplastics).”

BAS mechanical engineer Rad Sharma says “it was exciting to help the CUPIDO scientific team design these new equipment and contribute to tackling marine plastic pollution.”

The research is published in the journal Environmental pollution.

Microplastics continue to harm our environment

More information:
Elisa Bergami et al, The Ocean Plastic Incubator Chamber (OPIC) system to monitor in situ plastic degradation at sea, Environmental pollution (2022). DOI: 10.116/j.envpol.2022.119868

Provided by British Antarctic Survey

Quote: New kit enables study of ocean microplastics (2022, September 8), retrieved September 8, 2022 from

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