Analysis of suspended microplastics in the Changjiang Estuary: Implications for riverine plastic load to the ocean
The role of rivers as a major transport pathway for all sizes of plastic debris into the ocean is widely recognized. Global modelling studies ranked the Changjiang River as the largest contributor of plastic waste to the marine environment, but these estimates were based on insufficient empirical data. To better understand the role of rivers in delivering terrestrial plastic debris to the ocean, the spatial and temporal patterns of microplastics (MP) in the Changjiang Estuary (CE) and the East China Sea (ECS) were studied based on surface water samples in February, May, and July 2017. A total of 3225 MP (60–5000 μm) were identified by Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) spectrometry. MP abundance in July was higher than in February and May due to higher river discharge. Density stratification in CE significantly influenced the surface MP abundances. A temporal accumulation zone within the river-sea interface for plastics was indicated by stations with apparently higher abundances in the river plume. Fibers were the most common MP (>80%) over three months. Small MP (<1000 μm) composed 75.0% of the total plastics on average. The average mass of MP was 0.000033 g/particle, which was two orders of magnitude lower than the empirical mass in literature. Without considering tidal effects, we estimate 16–20 trillion MP particles, weighing 537.6–905.9 tons, entered the sea through the surface water layer of the Changjiang River in 2017. These findings of this study provide reliable information on MP waste in a large river, which should be considered in further studies for estimating the riverine plastic loads.