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Scientific journal publication

Modelled sources of airborne microplastics collected at a remote Southern Hemisphere site

Aves, Alex; Ruffell, Helena; Evangeliou, Nikolaos; Gaw, Sally; Revell, Laura E.

Publication details

Journal: Atmospheric Environment, vol. 325, 120437, 2024

Arkiv: hdl.handle.net/11250/3125112
Doi: doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2024.120437

Airborne microplastics have emerged in recent years as ubiquitous atmospheric pollutants. However, data from the Southern Hemisphere, and remote regions in particular, are sparse. Here, we report airborne microplastic deposition fluxes measured during a five-week sampling campaign at a remote site in the foothills of the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Samples were collected over 24-hour periods for the first week and for 7-day periods thereafter. On average, atmospheric microplastic (MP) deposition fluxes were six times larger during the 24-hour sampling periods (150 MP m−2 day−1) than during the 7-day sampling periods (26 MP m−2 day−1), highlighting the importance of sampling frequency and deposition collector design to limit particle resuspension. Previous studies, many of which used weekly sampling frequencies or longer, may have substantially underestimated atmospheric microplastic deposition fluxes, depending on the study design. To identify likely sources of deposited microplastics, we performed simulations with a global dispersion model coupled with an emissions inventory of airborne microplastics. Modelled deposition fluxes are in good agreement with observations, highlighting the potential for this method in tracing sources of deposited microplastics globally. Modelling indicates that sea-spray was the dominant source when microplastics underwent long-range atmospheric transport, with a small contribution from road dust.