Atmospheric transport is a major pathway of microplastics to remote regions

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Abstract

In recent years, marine, freshwater and terrestrial pollution with microplastics has been discussed extensively, whereas atmospheric microplastic transport has been largely overlooked. Here, we present global simulations of atmospheric transport of microplastic particles produced by road traffic (TWPs – tire wear particles and BWPs – brake wear particles), a major source that can be quantified relatively well. We find a high transport efficiencies of these particles to remote regions. About 34% of the emitted coarse TWPs and 30% of the emitted coarse BWPs (100 kt yr−1 and 40 kt yr−1 respectively) were deposited in the World Ocean. These amounts are of similar magnitude as the total estimated direct and riverine transport of TWPs and fibres to the ocean (64 kt yr−1). We suggest that the Arctic may be a particularly sensitive receptor region, where the light-absorbing properties of TWPs and BWPs may also cause accelerated warming and melting of the cryosphere.

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Evangeliou, N., Grythe, H., Klimont, Z., Heyes, C., Eckhardt, S., Lopez-Aparicio, S., & Stohl, A. (2020). Atmospheric transport is a major pathway of microplastics to remote regions. Nature Communications, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-17201-9

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