A temporal sediment record of microplastics in Haukadalsvatn, a lake in Iceland

, Ásmundsdóttir Ásta, Gomiero Alessio, Øysæd Kjell Birger, Geyrsdóttir Áslaug.

Research has found that plastic pollution is being deposited into the fossil record with contamination increasing dramatically since the 1940s. It has been suggested that the plastic layers could be used to identify the start of the Anthropocene, the proposed geological epoch in which human activities have come to dominate the planet. In this study a well-dated sediment core collected from lake Haukadalsvatn in west Iceland, covering the whole of the Holocene, was used to provide data on the historical accumulation trend of microplastic waste. Samples were analysed from the top section of the sediment core dated from 1958 to 2002 CE as 5 years' time series. Microplastics were extracted from the sediment layers by a sequence of enzymes and oxidizing purification steps followed by ZnCl2 dense-liquid separation. The size class distribution and the chemical characterization were performed by µ-FTIR microscopy followed by GCMS-pyrolysis. Polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene microplastic particles were among the most dominant identified polymers. A total of 12 polymers where identified. Proliferation of microplastics is evident in the core from the late 1960s to the present. Relatively low numbers of particles were found in older sediments or comparable to laboratory blanks. This study shows that robustly dated sediments can add an important temporal perspective to our global understanding of microplastics sources, transport pathways, distribution and temporal trends.

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