Study reveals abundance of microscopic paint flakes in North Atlantic


A microscopic paint chip, measuring around 320μm in diameter, collected during a CPR investigation in the southern North Sea. Credit: Andrew Turner, University of Plymouth

Paint flakes could be one of the most abundant types of microplastic particles in the ocean, new research shows.

Through a series of surveys conducted in the North Atlantic Ocean, scientists estimated that each cubic meter of seawater contained an average of 0.01 flakes of paint.

This, they say, suggests that the material is second only in terms of recorded abundance to microplastic fibers, which have an estimated concentration of around 0.16 particles per m3.

Detailed chemical analysis of some of the flakes, carried out on some of the particles collected during the surveys, also revealed high amounts of copper, lead, iron and other elements.

This is because they are designed to have anti-fouling or anti-corrosive properties, with researchers saying this could pose an additional environmental threat to the ocean and many species that live in it when they ingest the particles.

The study, published in Total environmental science, was carried out by scientists from the University of Plymouth and the Marine Biological Association (MBA).

Over the past two decades, organizations have collaborated on a number of ocean plastics projects and, in 2019, demonstrated that there has been a significant increase in high seas plastics since the late 1950s.

Study reveals abundance of microscopic paint flakes in North Atlantic

The Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) is equipped with silk mesh and towed through surface waters similar to spaces occupied by marine mammals. Credit: Association of Marine Biology

Dr Andrew Turner, Associate Professor (Reader) of Environmental Sciences at the University of Plymouth, is the lead author of this study. He said: “Paint particles have often been a neglected component of marine microplastics, but this study shows that they are relatively abundant in the ocean. The presence of toxic metals like lead and copper poses additional risks to wildlife.

The study is based on data collected by the MBA’s Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR), which is fitted with silk meshes and towed through surface waters similar to spaces occupied by marine mammals.

During the year 2018 it was used to sample seawater throughout the North Atlantic region, from the Arctic Ocean to Spain and from the eastern United States to Sweden. .

Over 3600 samples were collected during this period and flakes were reported in approximately 2.8% (102) of all silks analyzed. This compares to fibers or strands seen in 48.8% (1763) of the bristles during the same time period.

The paint flakes also appeared to be more densely distributed around the seas of the continental shelf of northwestern Europe than in open or more distant oceanic environments.

An analysis of the paint particles was carried out in the laboratories of the University using X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF), with their chemical composition consistent with that found on the hulls and other painted components of ships mobilized in the Atlantic region.

Dr Clare Ostle, coordinator of the Pacific Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) at the MBA and co-author of the study, added: “We now know that plastics are everywhere and that most organisms probably ingest them, However, less is known how harmful this ingestion can be. This study has shown that paint flakes are an abundant form of microplastic that should not be neglected, especially since some can have toxic properties.

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More information:
Andrew Turner et al, Occurrence and chemical characteristics of microplastic paint flakes in the North Atlantic Ocean, Total environmental science (2021). DOI: 10.1016 / j.scitotenv.2021.150375

Provided by the University of Plymouth

Quote: Study reveals abundance of microscopic paint flakes in the North Atlantic (2021, October 7) retrieved October 7, 2021 from -flakes-north.html

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