Can plastics affect near surface layer ocean processes and climate?
Plastics in the ocean are of great concern nowadays, and are often referred to as the apocalyptic twin of climate change in terms of public fear and the problems they pose to the aquatic and terrestrial environment. The number of studies focusing on the ecological effects and toxicity of plastics has substantially increased in the last few years. Considering the current trends in the anthropogenic activities, the amount of plastics entering the world oceans is increasing exponentially, but the oceans have a low assimilative capacity for plastics and the near-surface layer of it is a finite space. If loading of the oceans with plastics continues at the current rate, the thin sea surface microlayer can have a substantial amount of plastics comparable to the distribution of phytoplankton, at least in the major oceanic gyres and coastal waters in the future. Also, processes like biofouling can cluster microplastics in dense fields in the near-surface layer. Plastics can contribute to the warming or cooling of the water column by scattering and attenuating incoming solar radiation, leading to a potential change in the optical and other physico-chemical properties of the water column. We propose a new notion that changes in solar radiation in the water column due to the plastics have the potential to affect the physical processes in the ocean surface and near-surface layers, and can induce climate feedback cycles. The future can be very different, if plastics evolve as one of the key players affecting the ocean physical processes and hence this is the time to tackle this puzzle with appropriate strategies or let the genie out of the bottle.
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