Although freshwater systems are equally if not more contaminated with microplastics than the oceans, large rivers have been largely ignored in previous years. RSS has been working together with the GFZ Helmholtz Institute in Potsdam, the Institute of Marine Sciences in Venice and the University of Bayreuth to resolve this problem by modelling microplastic accumulation in river and coastal systems. The resulting methodology combines remote sensing with hydrodynamic modelling and lays the groundwork for further research in this field.
The remote sensing work involved calibrating various satellite data to spectral measurements taken in the field in order to characterize river plumes and their particulate transfer mechanisms. Simultaneously, project partners developed the hydrodynamic model, which incorporated 3D currents, the thermohaline structure of the water column, as well as a particle’s density and shape in order to simulate microplastic dispersion.