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Horizontal and Vertical Distribution of Microplastics in Korean Coastal Waters

Song, Young Kyoung, Hong, Sang Hee, Eo, Soeun, Jang, Mi, Han, Gi Myung, Isobe, Atsuhiko, Shim, Won Joon
Environmental science & technology 2018 v.52 no.21 pp. 12188-12197
microplastics, mixing, models, particle size, polyethylene, polypropylenes, rural areas, spatial distribution, surface water, surveys, urban areas, South Korea
This is the first survey to investigate the vertical distribution and composition of microplastics >20 μm at the surface (0–0.2 m; bulk sample) and in the water column (3–58 m depth; pump) of six semi-enclosed bays and two nearshore areas of South Korea. The average microplastic abundance of 41 stations at all sampling depths was 871 particles/m³, and the microplastic abundance near urban areas (1051 particles/m³) was significantly higher than that near rural areas (560 particles/m³). Although the average microplastic abundances in the midcolumn (423 particles/m³) and bottom water (394 particles/m³) were approximately 4 times lower than that of surface water (1736 particles/m³), microplastics prevailed throughout the water column in concentrations of 10–2000 particles/m³. The average sizes of fragment and fiber type microplastics were 197 and 752 μm, respectively. Although the polymer composition differed by depth depending on the particle size and density, polypropylene and polyethylene predominated throughout the water column regardless of their low density and particle size. Finally, the middle and bottom water samples contained higher abundances of microplastics than predicted by a model based on physical mixing, indicating that biological interactions also influence the downward movement of low-density microplastics.