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Microplastics found deep in the middle of the ocean

Scientists hope to better predict how microplastics affect the health of marine ecosystems.

By
Brooks Hays
A piece of polyethylene collected at the Porcupine Abyssal Plain sustained ocean observatory. Photo by National Oceanography Centre
A piece of polyethylene collected at the Porcupine Abyssal Plain sustained ocean observatory. Photo by National Oceanography Centre

SOUTHAMPTON, England, Aug. 26 (UPI) -- They're everywhere, even in the deep, open ocean. They are microplastics, and researchers want to know how they might be affecting biodiversity in the middle of the Atlantic.

Though their research is just beginning, a team of scientists from the U.K. National Oceanography Centre have found microplastics throughout the first 1,000 meters -- or half-mile -- of the North Atlantic's water column.

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Scientists operating at the Porcupine Abyssal Plain sustained ocean observatory will soon began measuring microplastic concentrations as deep as 3,000 meters -- nearly two miles -- using rain gauge-like devices called sediment traps.

"The deep sea is considered one of the major sinks of microplastic debris and so we intend to focus part of our research in this area," researchers Richard Lampitt and Dr Katsia Pabortsava wrote in a news release. "The deep sea also has a huge diversity of marine life, yet we do not know how much plastic is in this part of the ocean or how it may enter food chains or affect marine life there."

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The ongoing measurements are part of global effort to track the amounts of microplastics moving through the ocean. Scientists have also stationed sediment traps inside subtropical gyres in central North and South Atlantic. Gyres are large rotating ocean currents; the swirls trap and concentrate pollution like microplastics.

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Researchers with the National Oceanography Centre are also preparing to take a trip to the Falkland Islands to record similar measurements.

The data will be used to build new models for predicting microplastic concentrations throughout the world's oceans. Ultimately, scientists hope to better predict how microplastics affect the health of marine ecosystems.

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