Microplastics in the marine environment: A review of their sources, distribution processes, uptake and exchange in ecosystems

Róisín Coyle, Gary Hardiman, Kieran O’ Driscoll*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

177 Citations (Scopus)
360 Downloads (Pure)


As the global production of plastics continues to accelerate, the ubiquitous presence of microplastics (μPs) has emerged as a significant marine problem. To comprehend fully the potential impacts and ecological harm caused by μPs it is vital that there is an understanding of their potential sources and sinks; the processes affecting their distribution; and their uptake and exchange in ecosystems. We carried out a comprehensive literature review to test the hypothesis that particle density is a key factor in describing the sinking behaviour and vertical distribution of μPs and to consider the uptake and trophic transfer of μPs. It was found that, whilst polymer density is a key factor in determining the vertical distribution of μPs in the water column, interactions with marine organisms better explain the occurrence of buoyant μPs at great depths. Furthermore, these interactions increase μP availability and uptake, leading to trophic transfer and bioaccumulation within the food chain.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100010
JournalCase Studies in Chemical and Environmental Engineering
Early online date23 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 01 Sept 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the United Kingdom Natural Environment Research Council under the Queen’s University Belfast and University of Aberdeen Doctoral Research and Training Doctoral Training Partnership (QUADRAT DTP) NERC Reference: NE/S007377/1 .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020


  • Biofouling
  • Faecal pellets
  • Marine aggregate
  • Microplastics
  • Uptake

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • General Chemical Engineering


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