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Plastics in the environment - sources, sinks, solutions

Plastics in the environmentPhoto by: chrisberic,

The pollution of coastal areas by plastic litter is increasingly perceived as a problem in science and the public. Macro-plastics and micro-plastics (plastic particles < 5 mm) have been detected in all aquatic systems already, including deep sea sediments and remote lakes. Although most of the plastic litter has reached the marine environment via river systems, only few reliable data about the type of plastics, the particle size distribution or even the quantity of plastics transported in rivers is available. The same applies to analytical approaches for determining inland plastic sources and input pathways on catchment level, which can be regarded as a prerequisite for developing strategies to reduce plastic emissions to coastal areas by river runoff. The research group Modelling and Management of Catchments of the IBG-3 institute participates in two projects in the framework of the BMBF-FONA-program „Plastics in the environment - sources, sinks, solutions“.

The main target of the MikroCatch_Balt project is the determination of the micro-plastic input into the Baltic Sea via the Warnow river. The Warnow catchment represents a typical catchment discharging into the Baltic Sea. It is a small rural and hydrologically homogeneous catchment with only one significant urban area in the estuary (Rostock). The MikroCatch_Balt project is coordinated by the Institut für Ostseeforschung (IOW) in Warnemünde, and further research partners in addition to the Forschungszentrum Jülich include the Thünen-Institut in Braunschweig (TI), the Leibniz-Institute for Polymer research in Dresden (IPF) and the Fraunhofer-Institut für Graphic Data Processing, Rostock (FhIGD).

In the framework of the PLAWES project, micro-plastic inputs into the North Sea via the Weser catchment will be quantified. The Weser represents a typical catchment discharging into the North Sea. It is a large and hydrologically heterogeneous catchment with several urban areas and various landscape structures and land use patterns. This project is coordinated by the University of Bayreuth and the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI, Helgoland). Further research partners in addition to the Forschungszentrum Jülich include amongst others the University of Frankfurt, the University of Oldenburg and the Niedersächsische Landesbetrieb für Wasserwirtschaft, Küsten- und Naturschutz (NLWKN).

The main aim of both projects is the spatially resolved quantification of diffuse and point source micro-plastic inputs into the Warnow and Weser river systems down to their coastal waters as well as the identification of hot-spot areas within the catchment areas. For this purpose, the model approaches mGROWA und MEPhos will be further developed. Whereas the water balance model mGROWA will depict the spatial variability of the hydrological conditions in high temporal (daily) resolution and identify the relevant water-borne micro-plastic input pathways, the MEPhos model concept will be used to derive micro-plastic export coefficients specific for relevant sources and pathways.

Prof. Dr. Frank Wendland
Tel.: +49 2461 61 3165