Spatial distribution of microplastics in a coastal upwelling region: Offshore dispersal from urban sources in the Humboldt Current System

María Amenábar, Moisés A. Aguilera, Camila Gallardo, Charles Moore, Raquelle De Vine, Gwen Lattin, Angela Gamba, Andrea Luna-Acosta, Martin Thiel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In coastal waters, higher concentrations of microplastics (MPs) are generally related to densely populated and industrialized areas, but intense upwelling and offshore transport in the Eastern Boundary Upwelling Systems (EBUS) may influence this pattern. The Humboldt Current System (HCS) along the coast of northern-central Chile represents a perfect model to test whether the abundance of MP at the sea surface decreases with distance from land-based sources, e.g., river mouths, harbors, and submarine wastewater outfalls. The sea surface was sampled with a manta trawl to examine the abundance, composition, and distribution of floating MPs, and Generalized Additive Mixed Models (GAMMs) were performed to examine the relationship between MP abundance (particles km−2) and the distance to putative sources. MPs were found in all 57 net tows, with an average of ⁓120,000 MP km−2 and maximum values of ⁓1,500,000 MP km−2. The composition of MPs was dominated by fragments (>50% of the total count) and over 80% of all MPs were ≥1 mm. The combined effect of the various sources, spatially concentrated in urban areas, makes it difficult to distinguish their relative contributions, but the MP composition suggested that rivers are more important sources, followed by submarine wastewater outfalls and then harbors. A significant and steep negative relationship with the “distance to source” explained 15.2% of the variance of “MP abundance”, suggesting rapid offshore displacement within the HCS. This is the first study to report this pattern along the edges of the South Pacific Subtropical Gyre (SPSG), revealing that continuous offshore transport of microplastic from land-based sources is occurring over large scales and contributing to the accumulation of microplastics in the center of the SPSG. However, the findings additionally suggested that processes at meso- and submeso-spatial scales (driven by geographic and seasonal variables) are disrupting the general pattern.

Original languageEnglish
Article number123157
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Volume343
DOIs
StatePublished - 15 Feb 2024
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Marine debris
  • Offshore transport
  • Plastic pollution
  • South Pacific subtropical gyre
  • Southeast Pacific

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