Microplastics accumulate to thin layers in the stratified Baltic Sea
In the Baltic Sea, water is stratified due to differences in density and salinity. The stratification prevents water from mixing, which could affect sinking rates of microplastics in the sea. We studied the accumulation of microplastics to halocline and thermocline. We sampled water with a 100 μm plankton net from vertical transects between halo- and thermocline, and a 30 L water sampler from the end of halocline and the beginning of thermocline. Thereafter, microplastics in the whole sample volumes were analyzed with imaging Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). The plankton net results showed that water column between halo- and thermoclines contained on average 0.92 ± 0.61 MP m−3 (237 ± 277 ng/m−3; mean ± SD), whereas the 30 L samples from the end of halocline and the beginning of thermocline contained 0.44 ± 0.52 MP L−1 (106 ± 209 ng L−1). Hence, microplastics are likely to accumulate to thin layers in the halocline and thermocline. The vast majority of the found microplastics were polyethylene, polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate, which are common plastic types. We did not observe any trend between the density of microplastics and the sampling depth, probably because biofilm formation affected the sinking rates of the particles. Our results indicate the need to sample deeper water layers in addition to surface waters at least in the stratified water bodies to obtain a comprehensive overview of the abundance of microplastics in the aquatic environment.