Where has all the plastic gone? Microplastics in the River Rhine

Prof. Patricia Burkhardt-Holm of the University of Basel, Switzerland

Microplastics result from fragmentation of plastic debris or are released to the environment as manufacturer products. In the oceans, they contribute to the ‘great garbage patches’. They are ingested by many organisms, from protozoa to baleen whales, and pose a threat to the aquatic fauna. Although as much as 80% of marine debris originates from land, little attention was given to the role of rivers as debris pathways to the sea.

Worldwide, not a single great river has yet been studied for the surface microplastic load over its length. We report the abundance and composition of microplastics at the surface of the Rhine, one of the largest European rivers. Measurements were made at 11 locations over a stretch of 820 km. Microplastics were found in all samples, with 892,777 particles km -2 on average. In the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area, a peak concentration of 3.9 million particles km -2 was measured. This is higher than so far reported of most of the freshwater systems. I will also  talk about open questions which we are currently studying, such as: how to identify the sources and entry pathways and which secrets are hidden in the sediments of the river Rhine.

Date: 5 October, 11.00 uur
Location: NIOZ Sea Research Texel - Oceaanzaal
Address: Landsdiep 4, 1797 SZ 't Horntje (Texel)