Biogenic calcite precipitation facilitates the sedimentation of microplastics in a eutrophic reservoir

, Leiser Rico, Jongsma Rense, Insa Bakenhuis, Möckel Robert, Philipp Bodo, Neu Thomas R., Wendt-Potthoff Katrin.

Low-density microplastics are frequently found in sediments of many lakes and reservoirs. The processes leading to settling of initially buoyant polymers are poorly understood for inland waters. This study investigated the impact of biofilm formation and aggregation on the density of buoyant polyethylene microplastics. Biofilm formation on polyethylene films (4 x 4 x 0.15 mm) was studied in a eutrophic reservoir (Bautzen, Saxony, Germany). Additionally, aggregation dynamics of small PE microplastics ( 85 µm) with cyanobacteria were investigated in laboratory experiments. During summer phototrophic sessile cyanobacteria (Chamaesiphon spp. and Leptolyngbya spp.) precipitated calcite while forming biofilms on microplastics incubated in Bautzen reservoir. Subsequently the density of the biofilms increased sinking of roughly 10 % of the polyethylene particles within 29 days of incubation. In the laboratory experiments planktonic cyanobacteria (Microcystis spp.) formed large and dense cell aggregates under the influence of elevated Ca2+ concentrations. These aggregates enclosed microplastic particles and led to sinking of a small portion ( 0.4 %) of polyethylene microplastics. This study showed that both sessile and planktonic phototrophic microorganisms mediate processes under the influence of calcium which facilitate densification and sinking of microplastics in freshwater reservoirs. Loss of buoyancy leads to particle sedimentation and could be a prerequisite for the permanent burial of microplastics within reservoir sediments.

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