image below the surface

The life of microplastics in the ocean to be mapped

​Microplastics in the ocean is a growing global problem. Researchers in the Division of Fluid Dynamics at the Department of Mechanics and Maritime Sciences has received 2 million SEK to study the transport pattern of microplastics in the sea. The long-term goal of the project is to gain a deeper understanding of the impact microplastics have on the marine environment

Plastics that pollute the oceans are a major problem because of the longevity of the material, the impact it has on marine life and the huge amount that is released continuously. Plastics that end up in the sea eventually go through a fragmentation process and become smaller and smaller pieces and eventually become so-called microplastics.

Microplastics are usually defined as plastic pieces that are less than 5 millimetres. They are persistent environmental contaminants whose potential for physical harm and toxicity have a major impact on marine life. Partly physically in the form of suffocation and blocking of digestive systems in animals and in addition, it is often also toxic to living organisms. Now a research group at Chalmers has received 2 million SEK to develop computational models for the spreading of microplastics in the sea.

“It is estimated that there are between 27 and 67 million tonnes of plastic in the ocean, and microplastic particles are by far the largest quantity of plastic pollution. Knowledge and understanding of smaller microplastic particles is limited, and our calculation models can be of great benefit here”, says Gaetano Sardina, project leader and assistant professor at the Division Fluid Dynamics at the Department of Mechanics and Maritime Sciences.​

The computational model is part of a larger project, MikroplastiX, which is a collaboration between nine different universities. The goal is to evaluate microplastic interaction with the marine life, assess horizontal and vertical transport, gradients and temporal distribution, all which will contribute to advanced multiscale models to predict fate and pathways of microplastics.

“The computational model we develop includes several different scales to be able to draw conclusions about where the plastics go. We will develop an open-source tool that will be able to calculate the flow of microplastics very precisely with the help of movements on a millimeter scale, meter scale and long-distance transport get several kilometres”, says Gaetano Sardina.​​

Text: Anders Ryttarson Törneholm​

Published: Wed 04 Dec 2019.