Microplastics in the Southern Oceans

Microplastics (MP) pose an emerging threat to the global environment. Wherever one searches, MP is found, albeit in differing concentrations and constitutions. We ask whether microplastics is also found in the Antarctic Ocean. Specifically, we ask if microplastics found in the Southern Ocean originates from tourism, ship traffic or stations on land or if it originates form the northern continents.  Can the strong Antarctic Circumpolar Current which isolates the Southern Ocean from the northern oceans be penetrated by microplastics at the water surface? To answer these questions, we will study surface water of the Southern Ocean (Weddell sea, Western Antarctic Peninsula and Scotia Sea) for the occurrence of microplastics. We aim at analyzing the microplastics and try to find signatures to ascertain the importance of local vs more northern sources. As well, filter-feeding zooplankton and planktivorous fish of the Southern Ocean will be studied to see whether they ingested microplastics.

This project is in progress. It is a cooperation project of several research institutes:
Alfred-Wegener Institut (G. Gerdts, B. Meyer), University of Bern (H. Segner), Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research NIOZ (L. Amaral-Zettler), Utrecht University (E van Sebille)

Prof. Dr. Patricia Burkhardt-Holm
MSc Clara Leistenschneider

Expedition reports research vessel Polarstern