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Microplastics in the Deep Ocean

Giant gyers of floating plastic have long been at the forefront of the public conversation around ocean pollution, but there has been a dearth of research on the deeper issue of plastic that reaches below the surface. Since the onset of mainstream plastic production begin in the 1940s and 1950s, plastic pollution in the ocean has been a rapidly growing threat. A 2017 study on the production and eventual fate of all plastic estimated that of the 8300 million metric tons of virgin plastic produced by 2015, 79% of it had accumulated in landfills or the natural environment.

Despite the constant influx of plastic to the ocean, the amount of surface plastic isn’t growing proportionally. Simulations from another 2017 study show that 99.8% of the plastic that entered the ocean since 1950 settled below surface level. Scientists have found microplastic contamination in the water column, in bottom-dwelling animals, and in ocean sediment, and a 2015 study of deep-sea sediment in North Atlantic and Arctic Ocean reported some of the highest microplastic concentrations reported to date.

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