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Microplastics in the Antarctic marine system: An emerging area of research

Waller, Catherine L.; Griffiths, Huw J.; Waluda, Claire M.; Thorpe, Sally E.; Loaiza, Iván; Moreno, Bernabé; Pacherres, Cesar O.; Hughes, Kevin A.


Huw J. Griffiths

Claire M. Waluda

Sally E. Thorpe

Iván Loaiza

Bernabé Moreno

Cesar O. Pacherres

Kevin A. Hughes


It was thought that the Southern Ocean was relatively free of microplastic contamination; however, recent studies and citizen science projects in the Southern Ocean have reported microplastics in deep-sea sediments and surface waters. Here we reviewed available information on microplastics (including macroplastics as a source of microplastics) in the Southern Ocean. We estimated primary microplastic concentrations from personal care products and laundry, and identified potential sources and routes of transmission into the region. Estimates showed the levels of microplastic pollution released into the region from ships and scientific research stations were likely to be negligible at the scale of the Southern Ocean, but may be significant on a local scale. This was demonstrated by the detection of the first microplastics in shallow benthic sediments close to a number of research stations on King George Island. Furthermore, our predictions of primary microplastic concentrations from local sources were five orders of magnitude lower than levels reported in published sampling surveys (assuming an even dispersal at the ocean surface). Sea surface transfer from lower latitudes may contribute, at an as yet unknown level, to Southern Ocean plastic concentrations. Acknowledging the lack of data describing microplastic origins, concentrations, distribution and impacts in the Southern Ocean, we highlight the urgent need for research, and call for routine, standardised monitoring in the Antarctic marine system.


Waller, C. L., Griffiths, H. J., Waluda, C. M., Thorpe, S. E., Loaiza, I., Moreno, B., …Hughes, K. A. (2017). Microplastics in the Antarctic marine system: An emerging area of research. The Science of the total environment, 598, 220-227.

Journal Article Type Review
Acceptance Date Mar 31, 2017
Online Publication Date Apr 11, 2017
Publication Date Nov 15, 2017
Deposit Date Mar 14, 2018
Publicly Available Date Mar 20, 2018
Journal Science of The Total Environment
Print ISSN 0048-9697
Electronic ISSN 1879-1026
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 598
Pages 220-227
Keywords Pollution; Microplastics; Antarctica; Southern Ocean; Macroplyastics
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This article is maintained by: Elsevier; Article Title: Microplastics in the Antarctic marine system: An emerging area of research; Journal Title: Science of The Total Environment; CrossRef DOI link to publisher maintained version:; Content Type: article; Copyright: © 2017 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.


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This is an open access article made available under a Creative commons licence -

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