The effect of wind mixing on the vertical distribution of buoyant plastic debris



[1] Micro-plastic marine debris is widely distributed in vast regions of the subtropical gyres and has emerged as a major open ocean pollutant. The fate and transport of plastic marine debris is governed by poorly understood geophysical processes, such as ocean mixing within the surface boundary layer. Based on profile observations and a one-dimensional column model, we demonstrate that plastic debris is vertically distributed within the upper water column due to wind-driven mixing. These results suggest that total oceanic plastics concentrations are significantly underestimated by traditional surface measurements, requiring a reinterpretation of existing plastic marine debris data sets. A geophysical approach must be taken in order to properly quantify and manage this form of marine pollution.