Airborne microplastics in high-latitude catchments (Finse, Norway)

Microplastic (MP; plastic ≤ 5 mm in size) in the environment has become a global hazard to ecosystems and humans. Research about microplastic contamination has focused on oceans ever since the first emergence of this research field about 50 years ago. Only over the last few years, this research has been expanded to freshwater and terrestrial environments.

Despite extended research efforts, however, a detailed understanding of the fate and impact of this pervasive contaminant within the environment remains elusive. This particularly applies to remote and sparsely inhabited areas because atmospheric transport and deposition of MPs have only very recently been recognized as notable pathways for MPs.

Similarly to remote locations, groundwater bodies represent understudied systems regarding MP pollution. Whereas the widespread contamination of surface waters with MPs is well known, scientists have only just begun to explore the presence of MPs in groundwater systems. Furthermore, most studies only report on the quantity and composition of plastics found. They thereby disregard the linkage between the presence of microplastic and its controlling factors (that is, meteorology and hydrology) influencing plastic transport and its spatiotemporal occurrence.

To truly understand the complex pathways of MPs, however, a more integrated approach of combining hydrometeorological process understanding with microplastic occurrence is required.

The aim of this master’s thesis is to gain an improved understanding of the source fluxes (that is, atmospheric transport) and pathways (that is, distribution via wind and water fluxes) of microplastic in alpine/subarctic areas with a focus on groundwater.

The student will thereby contribute to closing existing research gaps (i) by identifying the MP occurrence in different water sources including groundwater in remote areas (i.e., Finse, Norway) and (ii) by providing a more holistic approach that will reveal the linkage between hydrometeorological processes and MP occurrence. To this end, the student will help to sample surface water as well as groundwater and its recharge sources (that is, glacial water and precipitation/snow) in a glaciated catchment near Finse as an integrated part of ongoing research conducted within the LATICE project.

The student will also help to analyze water samples for microplastic concentration and composition in close collaboration with Dr Rachel Hurley and Nina Buenaventura from the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA).

Microplastic data will be integrated with existing information delineating the hydrology and meteorology of the study site (Finse) such as (i) isotopic analyses of water samples (e.g., stable water isotopes), (ii) local wind conditions (that is, wind speed and direction) using data collected of the LATICE Flux Tower and (iii) hydrological parameters such as river discharge.

There will also be a possibility to utilise analytical results to construct a simple hydrodynamic catchment model of MP fluxes using NIVA tools, such as the Mobius framework.

Such an integrated analysis will allow to identify the controlling factors of MP occurrence and will result in an improved system understanding of how MPs are distributed through the water cycle in remote areas.

Image may contain: Blue, Water, Sky, Turquoise, Aqua.
Fig. 1 Plastic in the aquatic environment. 
Credits: Tunatura/Getty Images | Click here for a bigger version of the picture.
Image may contain: Mountainous landforms, Mountain, Glacial landform, Geological phenomenon, Moraine.
Fig. 2 The study site at Finse, Norway
Credits: Andrea Popp | Click here for a bigger version of the picture. 


Published Nov. 6, 2020 3:32 PM - Last modified Nov. 6, 2020 3:37 PM

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