LBM simulations of raindrop impacts demonstrate microplastic transport from the ocean into the atmosphere

, Lehmann Moritz, Gekle Stephan.

It is a common misbelief that microplastics getting into the ocean stay there indefinitely. Recent observations detected elevated levels of microplastics in the air near the coastline [Allen et al. Ëxamination of the ocean as a source for atmospheric microplastics̈. In: PloS one 15.5 (2020), e02327469]. Here we show that raindrop impacts can possibly explain these observations as they constitute a mechanism for microplastic transport from the ocean into the atmosphere. We model these impacts with the Volume-of-Fluid lattice Boltzmann method extended by the immersed-boundary method. We use typical sizes and velocities of real-world raindrops - a parameter range previously inaccessible to 3D simulations. We find that a 5mm diameter raindrop impact ejects more than 160 droplets and that at least 75 of them are so fast that they reach an altitude above half a meter in the air. We further show that the droplets indeed contain microplastic concentrations similar to the ocean a few millimeters below the surface.

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