Abstract: Plastic waste accumulating in the global ocean is an increasingly threatening environmental issue. Transported by currents, wind and waves, positively buoyant plastic objects eventually accumulate at the sea surface of subtropical oceanic gyres, forming the so-called ocean garbage patches. To date, the floating and thus most visible fraction of ocean plastic pollution has been mapped at global scale. Yet, current estimates of plastic debris that is afloat at sea account for less than 1% of all the plastic that is believed to have entered the ocean since the 1950s. A major fraction of positively buoyant plastic debris is therefore currently unaccounted for, suggesting that there are unrecognized pathways that lead to loss of plastic from the ocean surface. The unaccounted plastic debris is hypothesized to be suspended at intermediate depths in the ocean water column, to have been deposited on the seabed, to have been captured in coastal environments, or to have fragmented into smaller micro- and nano-sized particles that escape current sampling techniques. However, the plastic mass in each of these reservoirs and the corresponding plastic fluxes remain unknown. In this presentation, I will summarize the current state of knowledge concerning the transport and transformation processes of positively buoyant plastic debris in the ocean. Such knowledge is of paramount importance to assess the long-term risks of ocean plastic pollution for marine ecosystems, fisheries and food supply to humans, as well as to advance optimized mitigation strategies.
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CBL's Distinguished Scholars Seminar is open to the public. However, interested participants should be aware that these highly technical seminars are intended for an academic audience. Members of the public who would like to learn about featured research efforts are encouraged to participate in CBL's public Science for Citizens Seminar Series.