PerspectiveEcology

The global odyssey of plastic pollution

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Science  12 Jun 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6496, pp. 1184-1185
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc4428

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Summary

Scientists who once studied microplastics (plastic debris <5 mm in size) as ocean pollutants have now detected them in soils, biota, and Earth's atmosphere. To decipher the global fate of microplastics, scientists have begun to ask questions about the “microplastic cycle,” which is akin to global biogeochemical cycles (nitrogen, carbon, and water). For example, what are the sources of microplastics, and how do they transform as they move from one pool (e.g., a beach, inside an organism, or a river bed) to another? And what processes (“fluxes”) transfer microplastics between pools? On page 1257 of this issue, Brahney et al. (1) report high-resolution spatial and temporal data that provide evidence of both global and regional microplastic transport, thus increasing our understanding of the microplastic cycle.

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