Explosion in Plastic Pollution Post-World War II Seen in Marine Sediments


Surge in microplastics could serve as marker for “the Great Acceleration”.

The amount of plastic fragments in Santa Barbara Basin sediments has been increasing exponentially since the end of World War II, according to a study by researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego.

The sharp increase matches a rise in the rate of plastic production worldwide and a surge in California’s coastal population during the same time period. The research team, sifting through nearly 200 years of sediments, noted that since the 1940s the amount of microscopic plastics has doubled about every 15 years.

“This study shows that our plastic production is being almost perfectly copied in our sedimentary record. Our love of plastic is actually being left behind in our fossil record,” said Scripps microplastics biologist Jennifer Brandon, lead author of the study that appears today in the journal Science Advances.

The study is the first of its kind in that it examined accumulation of plastic over time in a location that afforded researchers the opportunity to resolve the trend in fine detail. Supported by California Sea Grant, the National Science Foundation, and private donors, the study is the latest among several to illustrate how pervasive plastic pollution is in the global oceans.

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