Quantification of Marine Microplastics in the Surface Waters of the Gulf of Alaska
A variety of samples from Gulf of Alaska surface waters. (Photo Credit: University of Washington Tacoma)
A variety of samples from Gulf of Alaska surface waters. (Photo Credit: University of Washington Tacoma)

Scientists from the University of Washington Tacoma, and UW’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO) established a baseline for the distribution and quantity of marine microplastics in the Gulf of Alaska. Using this baseline, they worked to determine if an increase in marine microplastics occurred following the 2011 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami.

Project Dates: May 2014 - April 2015

Who is involved?
The study was conducted with funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program by Drs. Joel Baker and Julie Masura from the University of Washington Tacoma and Dr. Miriam Doyle from UW/JISAO, a cooperative institute between the University of Washington and NOAA.

What is the project and why is it important?
Growing concerns about the impacts of marine microplastics have led to efforts to evaluate their distribution and quantity. In a previous study funded by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the University of Washington Tacoma developed sampling and analytical methods to collect, isolate, identify, and quantify microplastics in marine water samples. In this study, those methodologies were applied to quantify how much microplastic was present in archived surface water samples collected from the Gulf of Alaska during research cruises in 2004, 2005, 2011, and 2013. The water samples from 2004 and 2005 were analyzed to establish a baseline for the presence and concentration of microplastics in the region prior to the 2011 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami. The 2011 and 2013 water samples were analyzed to determine if there was an increase in the distribution and quantity of microplastics following the tsunami.

This project was completed in the summer of 2015 and results will be shared in a peer-reviewed publication.