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This article is part of the Research Topic Plastic Pollution

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Review ARTICLE

Front. Mar. Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fmars.2017.00030

Using numerical model simulations to improve the understanding of micro-plastic distribution and pathways in the marine environment

  • 1Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization, Australia
  • 2Oceanographic Institute, São Paulo University, Brazil
  • 3Research Institute for Applied Mechanics, Kyushu University, Japan
  • 4The Modelling House Ltd, New Zealand
  • 5The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, Netherlands
  • 6School of Ocean & Earth Science & Technology, International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii, USA
  • 7Grantham Institute & Department of Physics, Imperial College London, United Kingdom
  • 8Deltares, Netherlands
  • 9Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije University, Netherlands

Numerical modelling is one of the key tools with which we can gain insight into the distribution of marine litter, especially micro-plastics. Over the past decade, a series of numerical simulations have been constructed that specifically target floating marine litter, based on ocean models of various complexity. Some of these models include the effects of currents, waves and wind as well as a series of processes that impact how particles interact with ocean currents, including fragmentation and degradation. Here, we give an overview of these models, including their spatial and temporal resolution, limitations, availability, and what we have learned from them. Then we focus on floating marine micro-plastics (<5mm diameter) and we make recommendations for experimental research efforts that can improve the skill of the models by increasing our understanding of the processes that govern the dispersion of marine litter. In addition, we highlight the importance of knowing accurately the sources or entry points of marine plastic debris, including potential sources that have not been incorporated in previous studies (e.g. atmospheric contributions). Finally, we identify information gaps and priority work areas for research. We also highlight the need for appreciating and acknowledging the uncertainty that persists regarding the movement, transportation and accumulation of anthropogenic litter in the marine environment.

Keywords: numerical modelling, marine debris, Microplastics, fragmentation, accumulation modelling, fluxes

Citation: Hardesty BD, Harari J, Isobe A, Lebreton L, Maximenko N, Potemra JT, van Sebille k, Vethaak D and Wilcox C (2017). Using numerical model simulations to improve the understanding of micro-plastic distribution and pathways in the marine environment. Front. Mar. Sci. 4:30. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2017.00030

Received: 01 Nov 2016; Accepted: 25 Jan 2017.

Edited by:

Francois Galgani, French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea, France

Reviewed by:

Stefano Aliani, Consiglio Nazionale Delle Ricerche (CNR), Italy
Olivia Gerigny, Ifremer, France  

Copyright: © 2017 Hardesty, Harari, Isobe, Lebreton, Maximenko, Potemra, van Sebille, Vethaak and Wilcox. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Britta D. Hardesty, Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization, Hobart, Australia, denise.hardesty@csiro.au