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About WHOI's Microplastics Initiative

Marine chemist Collin Ward working in his lab. (Photo by Jayne Doucette, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

The presence in the ocean of microplastics (MPs)--small particles of plastic less than 5 mm in size--has emerged as a major cause for concern around the world. WHOI scientists first identified MPs in coastal and open ocean environments in the 1970s and subsequently contributed to seminal research on the presence of MPs in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre that was published in 2010. In 2017, WHOI launched a marine microplastics program, with goals that included 1) convening an international workshop to identify the key knowledge gaps and research questions concerning microplastic pollution in the ocean and 2) building a long-term, collaborative, interdisciplinary research program to address these questions and provide a better understanding of the MP problem and its possible solutions.

Questions surrounding microplastics in the ocean are inherently complex and cross traditional disciplinary boundaries. As a result, WHOI researchers are working individually and collaboratively to conduct cross-disciplinary research to understand the fate and impacts of marine microplastics and their much smaller cousin, nanoplastics. The research is supported by partners and sponsors that include federal agencies, foundations, and individuals. WHOI scientists and engineers are also providing leadership in the microplastics research field by organizing events and giving presentations to a variety of audiences.

Capabilities

WHOI researchers have multi-disciplinary expertise and capabilities that are being applied to understand microplastics in the ocean:

  • Analytical chemistry, including Raman and FTIR spectroscopy and mass spectrometry
  • Photochemistry
  • Isotope geochemistry
  • Physical oceanographic modeling
  • Marine microbiology
  • Molecular toxicology
  • Global Rivers program
  • Marine Policy

Additional details can be found associated with individual team members.