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Learning from natural sediments to tackle microplastics challenges: A multidisciplinary perspective

Waldschlager, Brückner, Almroth, Hackney, Adyel, Alimi, Belontz, Cowger, Doyle, Gray, Kane, Kooi, Kramer, Lechthaler, Michie, Nordam, Pohl, Russell, Thit, Umar, Valero, Varrani, Warrier, Woodall & Wu

April, 2022

Although the study of microplastics in the aquatic environment incorporates a diversity of research fields, it is still in its infancy in many aspects while comparable topics have been studied in other disciplines for decades. In particular, extensive research in sedimentology can provide valuable insights to guide future microplastics research. To advance our understanding of the comparability of natural sediments with microplastics, we take an interdisciplinary look at the existing literature describing particle properties, transport processes, sampling techniques and ecotoxicology. Based on our analysis, we define seven research goals that are essential to improve our understanding of microplastics and can be tackled by learning from natural sediment research, and identify relevant tasks to achieve each goal:


  1. To improve and standardize descriptions of microplastic particles

  2. To understand and quantify time-variable particle property
    changes and interactions with other environmental
    substances and their impact on microplastic transport

  3. To evaluate the vertical distribution of aquatic microplastic and their transport in the water column

  4. To evaluate differences in the erosion and deposition behaviour between microplastics and sediments

  5. To understand and quantify the impact of biota on microplastic transport

  6. To improve and standardize sampling methods

  7. To study the drivers of microplastic toxicity in comparison with sediment particles


This review highlights areas where we can rely on understanding and techniques from sediment research - and areas where we need new, microplastic-specific knowledge - and synthesize recommendations to guide future, interdisciplinary microplastic research.

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