A Geological Perspective on a Global Problem

Pollutants, Including Plastic, Reach Deep-Sea Fans

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Pollutants, consisting of plastic, reach deep-sea fans through connected sediment routing systems, in addition to from outside the associated catchment(s), by means of near-shore and shelfal currents (i.e., littoral cells), eolian transportation, surface area currents, and direct input from oceanic sources such as shipping and fishing. Credit: I.A. Kane and A. Fildani (Modified from Hessler and Fildani [2019].)

A brand-new focus short article in the May concern of Geology sums up research study on plastic waste in marine and sedimentary environments. Authors I.A. Kane of the Univ. of Manchester and A. Fildani of the Deep Time Institute compose that “Environmental pollution caused by uncontrolled human activity is occurring on a vast and unprecedented scale around the globe. Of the diverse forms of anthropogenic pollution, the release of plastic into nature, and particularly the oceans, is one of the most recent and visible effects.”

The authors mention several research studies, consisting of one in the May concern by Guangfa Zhong and Xiaotong Peng, talked about in a previous GSA press release when it was released online ahead of print (January 26, 2021). Zhong and Peng were shocked to discover plastic waste in a deep-sea submarine canyon situated in the northwestern South China Sea.

“Plastic is generally considered to be the dominant component of marine litter, due to its durability and the large volume produced,” compose Kane and Fildani. “Nano- and microplastics are a particularly insidious form of anthropogenic pollutant: tiny fragments and fibers may be invisible to the naked eye, but they are ingested with the food and water we consume and absorbed into the flesh of organisms.”

One of their crucial concerns is, “If some plastics can survive for >1000 years in terrestrial environments, how long do they last in ocean trenches that are kilometers deep, dark, cold, and at high pressure? How long does it take microplastic to break down into microplastics and nanoplastics in the deep sea?”

“While it is incumbent on policymakers to take action now to protect the oceans from further harm, we recognize the roles that geoscientists can play,” compose Kane and Fildani. That consists of utilizing their deep-time point of view to deal with the social obstacles, their understanding of the contemporary circulation on the seafloor and in the sedimentary record, utilizing geoscience methods to tape the downstream results of mitigation efforts, and to forecast the future of seafloor plastics.

In summary, they compose, “We understand … the transient nature of the stratigraphic record and its surprising preservation, and the unique geochemical environments found in deep-sea sediments. Our source-to-sink approach to elucidate land-to-sea linkages can identify the sources and pathways that plastics take while traversing natural habitats and identify the context in which they are ultimately sequestered, and the ecosystems they affect. This will happen by working closely with oceanographers, biologists, chemists, and others tackling the global pollution problem.”

Reference: “Anthropogenic pollution in deep-marine sedimentary systems—A geological perspective on the plastic problem” by I.A. Kane and A. Fildani, 1 May 2021, Geology.
DOI: 10.1130/focus052021.1

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