Journal Article: Microplastics in freshwater systems: Dynamic behaviour and transport processes

Published in: Resources, Conservation and Recycling

[Volume 205]

Freshwater ecosystems are viewed as a key medium for the transport of land-based plastics into oceans. Microplastic (MP) particles in freshwater environments demonstrate high persistence and an extensive range of size and shape distributions, which make their mobility, distribution, and fate vary distinctly depending on the prevailing environmental conditions. The inherent physical properties of different plastic polymers are constantly evolving at different specific reaction rates due to the complex weathering processes in the environment. This continuously alters the underlying mechanisms governing MP dynamics and further complicates their ultimate fate in natural aquatic systems. This paper conducts a comprehensive review of the dynamic behaviour of MPs in freshwater ecosystems, focusing on investigating the settling, aggregation, retention, and suspension processes governing their transport from the source to the sink. The authors provide an in-depth overview of the key theoretical foundations of MP behaviour in ambient flows and the key influential factors (i.e. size, density, shape, composition). Our findings highlight intricate interplays between MP dynamic behaviours and local hydrodynamics and water chemistry, which lead to the continuous evolution of MP physicochemical properties (e.g., size, surface charge) through interactions with suspended solids, organic natural matter, and microorganisms under light and wind exposure. This dynamic poses significant challenges in predicting MP transport processes and ultimate fate. Gap analysis highlights the discrepancy between current models based on controlled laboratory conditions and complex natural environments, signifying the need for investigating MP dynamic behaviour across a wide range of environmental conditions (e.g. simulating complex flow patterns and solution chemistries of real water bodies). Further research is needed to expand field studies to correlate environment hydrodynamics with MP abundance and to conduct mesoscale experiments that accurately reflect the effects of weathering and flow hydrodynamics on MP behaviours. Integrating detailed physical experiments with numerical modelling tools is essential for a comprehensive understanding of the interactions among various MPs and their overall impact on the environment. This facilitates robust and reliable environmental risk assessment for MP control and pollution management.


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June 2024


Mingqi Guo, Roohollah Noori, Soroush Abolfathi


Publication, Research Outputs



Plastic Pollution


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