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Concept: Sea


Plastics in the marine environment have become a major concern because of their persistence at sea, and adverse consequences to marine life and potentially human health. Implementing mitigation strategies requires an understanding and quantification of marine plastic sources, taking spatial and temporal variability into account. Here we present a global model of plastic inputs from rivers into oceans based on waste management, population density and hydrological information. Our model is calibrated against measurements available in the literature. We estimate that between 1.15 and 2.41 million tonnes of plastic waste currently enters the ocean every year from rivers, with over 74% of emissions occurring between May and October. The top 20 polluting rivers, mostly located in Asia, account for 67% of the global total. The findings of this study provide baseline data for ocean plastic mass balance exercises, and assist in prioritizing future plastic debris monitoring and mitigation strategies.

Concepts: Oceanography, Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Plastic, Pacific Ocean, Sea, Ocean, Marine debris


Plastic pollution has been well documented in natural environments, including the open waters and sediments within lakes and rivers, the open ocean and even the air, but less attention has been paid to synthetic polymers in human consumables. Since multiple toxicity studies indicate risks to human health when plastic particles are ingested, more needs to be known about the presence and abundance of anthropogenic particles in human foods and beverages. This study investigates the presence of anthropogenic particles in 159 samples of globally sourced tap water, 12 brands of Laurentian Great Lakes beer, and 12 brands of commercial sea salt. Of the tap water samples analyzed, 81% were found to contain anthropogenic particles. The majority of these particles were fibers (98.3%) between 0.1-5 mm in length. The range was 0 to 61 particles/L, with an overall mean of 5.45 particles/L. Anthropogenic debris was found in each brand of beer and salt. Of the extracted particles, over 99% were fibers. After adjusting for particles found in lab blanks for both salt and beer, the average number of particles found in beer was 4.05 particles/L with a range of 0 to 14.3 particles/L and the average number of particles found in each brand of salt was 212 particles/kg with a range of 46.7 to 806 particles/kg. Based on consumer guidelines, our results indicate the average person ingests over 5,800 particles of synthetic debris from these three sources annually, with the largest contribution coming from tap water (88%).

Concepts: Water, Lake, Water pollution, Polymer, Average, Sea, Ocean, Great Lakes


Plastic debris in the marine environment is widely documented, but the quantity of plastic entering the ocean from waste generated on land is unknown. By linking worldwide data on solid waste, population density, and economic status, we estimated the mass of land-based plastic waste entering the ocean. We calculate that 275 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million MT entering the ocean. Population size and the quality of waste management systems largely determine which countries contribute the greatest mass of uncaptured waste available to become plastic marine debris. Without waste management infrastructure improvements, the cumulative quantity of plastic waste available to enter the ocean from land is predicted to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025.

Concepts: Atlantic Ocean, Coast, Pacific Ocean, Sea, Ocean, Marine debris, Waste, Tonne


Concentrations of floating plastic were measured throughout the Mediterranean Sea to assess whether this basin can be regarded as a great accumulation region of plastic debris. We found that the average density of plastic (1 item per 4 m2), as well as its frequency of occurrence (100% of the sites sampled), are comparable to the accumulation zones described for the five subtropical ocean gyres. Plastic debris in the Mediterranean surface waters was dominated by millimeter-sized fragments, but showed a higher proportion of large plastic objects than that present in oceanic gyres, reflecting the closer connection with pollution sources. The accumulation of floating plastic in the Mediterranean Sea (between 1,000 and 3,000 tons) is likely related to the high human pressure together with the hydrodynamics of this semi-enclosed basin, with outflow mainly occurring through a deep water layer. Given the biological richness and concentration of economic activities in the Mediterranean Sea, the affects of plastic pollution on marine and human life are expected to be particularly frequent in this plastic accumulation region.

Concepts: Water, Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Spain, Sea, France, Ocean, Marine debris


Recent simulations have indicated that vinyl cyanide is the best candidate molecule for the formation of cell membranes/vesicle structures in Titan’s hydrocarbon-rich lakes and seas. Although the existence of vinyl cyanide (C2H3CN) on Titan was previously inferred using Cassini mass spectrometry, a definitive detection has been lacking until now. We report the first spectroscopic detection of vinyl cyanide in Titan’s atmosphere, obtained using archival data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), collected from February to May 2014. We detect the three strongest rotational lines of C2H3CN in the frequency range of 230 to 232 GHz, each with >4σ confidence. Radiative transfer modeling suggests that most of the C2H3CN emission originates at altitudes of ≳200 km, in agreement with recent photochemical models. The vertical column densities implied by our best-fitting models lie in the range of 3.7 × 10(13) to 1.4 × 10(14) cm(-2). The corresponding production rate of vinyl cyanide and its saturation mole fraction imply the availability of sufficient dissolved material to form ~10(7) cell membranes/cm(3) in Titan’s sea Ligeia Mare.

Concepts: Spectroscopy, Electromagnetic radiation, Physical chemistry, Model, Frequency, Sea, Titan, Extraterrestrial life


Plastic pollution is ubiquitous throughout the marine environment, yet estimates of the global abundance and weight of floating plastics have lacked data, particularly from the Southern Hemisphere and remote regions. Here we report an estimate of the total number of plastic particles and their weight floating in the world’s oceans from 24 expeditions (2007-2013) across all five sub-tropical gyres, costal Australia, Bay of Bengal and the Mediterranean Sea conducting surface net tows (N = 680) and visual survey transects of large plastic debris (N = 891). Using an oceanographic model of floating debris dispersal calibrated by our data, and correcting for wind-driven vertical mixing, we estimate a minimum of 5.25 trillion particles weighing 268,940 tons. When comparing between four size classes, two microplastic <4.75 mm and meso- and macroplastic >4.75 mm, a tremendous loss of microplastics is observed from the sea surface compared to expected rates of fragmentation, suggesting there are mechanisms at play that remove <4.75 mm plastic particles from the ocean surface.

Concepts: Oceanography, Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Sea, Ocean, Marine debris


Archaeochemistry as the application of the most recent analytical techniques to ancient samples now provides an unprecedented understanding of human culture throughout history. In this paper, we report on a multiplatform analytical investigation of 170-y-old champagne bottles found in a shipwreck at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, which provides insight into winemaking practices used at the time. Organic spectroscopy-based nontargeted metabolomics and metallomics give access to the detailed composition of these wines, revealing, for instance, unexpected chemical characteristics in terms of small ion, sugar, and acid contents as well as markers of barrel aging and Maillard reaction products. The distinct aroma composition of these ancient champagne samples, first revealed during tasting sessions, was later confirmed using state-of-the-art aroma analysis techniques. After 170 y of deep sea aging in close-to-perfect conditions, these sleeping champagne bottles awoke to tell us a chapter of the story of winemaking and to reveal their extraordinary archaeometabolome and elemental diversity in the form of chemical signatures related to each individual step of champagne production.

Concepts: Baltic Sea, Wine, Sea, Fermentation


Mesophotic coral ecosystems, which occur at depths of ~40 to 150 m, have received recent scientific attention as potential refugia for organisms inhabiting deteriorating shallow reefs. These ecosystems merit research in their own right, as they harbor both depth-generalist species and a distinctive reef-fish fauna. Reef ecosystems just below the mesophotic are globally underexplored, and the scant recent literature that mentions them often suggests that mesophotic ecosystems transition directly into those of the deep sea. Through submersible-based surveys in the Caribbean Sea, we amassed the most extensive database to date on reef-fish diversity between ~40 and 309 m at any single tropical location. Our data reveal a unique reef-fish assemblage living between ~130 and 309 m that, while taxonomically distinct from shallower faunas, shares strong evolutionary affinities with them. Lacking an existing name for this reef-faunal zone immediately below the mesophotic but above the deep aphotic, we propose “rariphotic.” Together with the “altiphotic,” proposed here for the shallowest reef-faunal zone, and the mesophotic, the rariphotic is part of a depth continuum of discrete faunal zones of tropical reef fishes, and perhaps of reef ecosystems in general, all of which warrant further study in light of global declines of shallow reefs.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Animal, Coral reef, Caribbean Sea, Sea, Caribbean, Nicaragua, Jamaica


Microplastics result from fragmentation of plastic debris or are released to the environment as pre-production pellets or components of consumer and industrial products. In the oceans, they contribute to the ‘great garbage patches’. They are ingested by many organisms, from protozoa to baleen whales, and pose a threat to the aquatic fauna. Although as much as 80% of marine debris originates from land, little attention was given to the role of rivers as debris pathways to the sea. Worldwide, not a single great river has yet been studied for the surface microplastics load over its length. We report the abundance and composition of microplastics at the surface of the Rhine, one of the largest European rivers. Measurements were made at 11 locations over a stretch of 820 km. Microplastics were found in all samples, with 892,777 particles km (-2) on average. In the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area, a peak concentration of 3.9 million particles km (-2) was measured. Microplastics concentrations were diverse along and across the river, reflecting various sources and sinks such as waste water treatment plants, tributaries and weirs. Measures should be implemented to avoid and reduce the pollution with anthropogenic litter in aquatic ecosystems.

Concepts: Water, Water pollution, River, Sewage treatment, Sea, Ocean, Aquatic ecology, Rhine


The pervasive nature of marine plastic pollution was highlighted at the recent United Nations Environment Assembly. This meeting saw strong commitments for action, but at the same time reinforced the challenges for contemporary ocean governance in addressing marine plastic pollution.

Concepts: Earth, Oceanography, Atlantic Ocean, United Arab Emirates, Sea, Universe, Environmental movement, Seven Seas