Can a Sediment Core Reveal the Plastic Age? Microplastic Preservation in a Coastal Sedimentary Record

Laura Simon-Sánchez*, Michaël Grelaud, Claudia Lorenz, Jordi Garcia-Orellana, Alvise Vianello, Fan Liu, Jes Vollertsen, Patrizia Ziveri

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)


The seafloor is the major sink for microplastic (MP) pollutants. However, there is a lack of robust data on the historical evolution of MP pollution in the sediment compartment, particularly the sequestration and burial rate of small MPs. By combining a palaeoceanographic approach and state-of-the-art analytical methods for MP identification down to 11 μm in size, we present the first high-resolution reconstruction of MP pollution from an undisturbed sediment core collected in the NW Mediterranean Sea. Furthermore, we investigate the fate of MPs once buried in the sediments by evaluating the changes in the size distribution of the MPs and the weathering status of the polyolefins, polyethylene, and polypropylene. Our results indicate that the MP mass sequestered in the sediment compartment mimics the global plastic production from 1965 to 2016. We observed an increase in the weathering status of the polyolefins as the size decreased. However, the variability in the size and weathering status of the MPs throughout the sedimentary record indicated that these pollutants, once incorporated into sediments, remain preserved with no further degradation under conditions lacking remobilization.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number23
Pages (from-to)16780-16788
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 6 Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the captain and crew of the Spanish R/V Sarmiento de Gamboa and the researchers part of the MERS_BI cruise for supporting the sampling of this study. We thank Joan Manuel Bruach for his support in the analysis of Pb. We also thank Roberta Johnson for the proofreading and editing of the English. This research contributes to the ICTA-UAB “Unit of Excellence” (Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, CEX2019-000940-M) and MERS (2017 SGR-1588; Generalitat de Catalunya). L.S.-S. acknowledges financial support from the FI-2018 fellowships of the Generalitat de Catalunya (2018_FI_B 00918). M.G. and P.Z. acknowledge the i-plastic project (JPI-Oceans─Grant PCI2020-112059) for financial support. 210

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Chemical Society.


  • Accumulation
  • Carbonyl index
  • Microplastics
  • Sediments
  • Weathering
  • Environmental Monitoring/methods
  • Geologic Sediments
  • Water Pollutants
  • Chemical analysis
  • Plastics


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