My research will use a suite of cutting edge analytical techniques and experimental design to address an important and significant problem: the behaviour of plastics within the geological cycle. A number of recent studies have elucidated the extent of the plastics problem on Earth with now 8.3 billion tons on our planet (Geyer et al. 2017), much of which (between approximately 5-nearly 13 million tons per year) ends up in the ocean (Jambeck et al 2015). Plastic is a major environmental problem and research issue which has emerged over the last decade: the scale of the problem is huge and getting bigger. To date, focus has been on the biological interactions of this material, but there are significant gaps in our knowledge especially in the area of how plastic behaves as a component of the geological cycle. We do not know how plastics behave as ‘sedimentary’ particles, both macro and micro on land and in rivers, lakes and the sea, how they get deposited and their short and long term fate once deposited and buried.
This research will find out through combing laboratory experiments with fieldwork collecting data on plastics. Laboratory experiments will be a significant focus of the project, and will be designed to model a suite of processes that have the potential to affect how plastic is transported and chemically and physically modified from its journey from land, through to seafloor and beyond. We will focus on just a few of the environmental compartments in which plastic is found.