Lab Update: September 2017
Hello Microplastics Adventurers,
Thank you for collecting water samples with the Adventure Scientists’ Global Microplastics Initiative. Your efforts are helping us understand the distribution and concentration of microplastics in the world’s waters, while also building one of the largest microplastics datasets ever. Principal Investigator Abby Barrows has processed your microplastics samples, and we’re excited to share the results of your work!
We appreciate you patience for this results update. We realize that many of you have been waiting for a few months (or longer) to see your results. We’ve been working hard to process the remaining samples and tie up loose ends in the past few weeks. Thank you for your understanding!
First, let us briefly explain the process your samples go through in the lab. Once Abby receives your sample, she vacuum pumps each sample over a filter. After the filter has dried, Abby uses a microscope at 45x magnification to look for pieces of microplastic that are less than 5 millimeters. Moving along the grid lines, the filter is systematically counted, with each plastic piece categorized based on shape (round, microfiber, other) and color (blue, red, black, transparent/white, other). The final count for the sample is divided by the sample volume. This calculation helps to standardize the results, as incoming water samples are often not exactly one liter of water.
We categorize microplastics using these descriptions:
- Microplastic: a microplastic is any piece of plastic smaller than 5mm in size. We search for and count these small pieces of plastic in our samples. Microplastics can be found in a variety of shapes, typically dependent on the origin of the piece.
- Round: a spherical or circular piece
- Fragment: a fragment of plastic is any non-linear, non-round piece. Generally they have jagged edges from breaking off larger pieces of plastic, but can also have smooth edges. Fragments can be three dimensional or two dimensional, such as a fragment of plastic film.
- Filament or Fiber: Filaments or fibers (also called microfibers) are pieces of microplastic originating from textiles. They are long, thin and stringlike. Typically, plastic filaments are consistent in shape and size along their length. They are the most abundant type of microplastic we find in our samples.
To date, 1919 of 2681 samples analyzed (72%) contained microplastics. 85% of marine samples contained plastic, while 48% of freshwater samples contained plastic. 25,080 pieces of microplastic have been counted. On average, we are finding about 8 plastic pieces per liter of water. You can check out the number of pieces per liter in each individual sample on the map on our microplastics page.
Note: In the results listed here, we report the total microplastic pieces found in all of your samples. However, for many of our calculations and for the online map, we report the total pieces per liter. As such, your microplastic total on the map may appear different from your total below.
Also, please let us know if your sample isn’t located in the correct place on the map, so that we can fix it for you.
Gerald Schoembs & Axumawit Berhe
Gerald and Axumawit collected a single sample from the Spree River, which contained one blue microfiber. Gerald is a networker and communications professional based in Berlin. In his free time, he enjoys scuba diving and sailing. Axumawit is an operations and finance professional, also based in Berlin. She enjoys scuba diving, running, and yoga.
Paul visited the US and British Virgin Islands on a ten day catamaran trip around the region. He collected two marine samples, which contained two blue microfibers. Paul was born and raised in Minnesota. He teaches ski racing, enjoys backcountry skiing, scuba diving and photography. An avid outdoorsman, Paul enjoys seeing remote parts of the world. While not exploring, Paul works at 3M.
Becca collected a sample from the Methow River near Winthrop, Washington, which contained two microplastics: one blue filament and one transparent filament. Becca is a hiker, climber, nordic skier, canoeist, and canyoneer living in western Washington. She works for The Mountaineers and would like to encourage the 4000+ technically skilled members to engage in citizen science.
Carra and her teammate Jesse collected a sample in Brisbane, which contained no microplastics. Carra has a BS and MS in Geology. She is passionate about outdoor adventures and environmentalism.
Tom collected a sample at the headwaters of the Fraser River, in which no microplastics were found. Tom is an avid fly fisherman, and has a BS and MS in Geosciences.
HyattstownWWTP & SenecaWWTP
Jordan Snyder & Martina Sestakova
Jordan and Martina collected five samples in which two transparent fibers and one black fiber were found. Jordan is a lifelong explorer and sailor who runs expedition style multi-day sailing adventures and photography workshops aboard his boat Base Camp II. Martina Sestakova is a textile/pattern designer who runs her company RADOST out of Bethesda, MD. Martina loves traveling, photography, and art, which inspire her design work. Click to link to learn more about Base Camp Sailing, and Jordan and Martina’s sailing adventures while collecting water samples on the Chesapeake Bay.
Karinde Spring to Sabaki
Wigi & Trix Cox
Wigi and Trix collected eleven samples near Nairobi and Tsavo National Parks. Kenya is experiencing a severe drought this year, and due to sediment overload, only six were able to be processed. In those six samples, fourteen microplastics were found: five transparent fibers, five black fibers, and four blue fibers.
Lake District, Salisbury & River Thames, UK
Nigel collected six samples in which seven microplastics were found: three green fragments, two transparent fibers, one black fiber, and one blue fiber. Nigel is a retired magazine and promotional materials publisher. He is currently a member of the Marine Conservation Society, and participates in regular beach clean-ups.
Noa’s Winter Boating
Noa collected two additional samples which didn’t contain any microplastics. Noa works as an engineer developing research-grade environmental instrumentation. She is also a former whitewater raft guide and spends many weekends recreationally rafting.
Pearson Island, South Australia
Alan collected six samples during his sailing expedition to Pearson Island, which contained two purple fibers and one black fiber. Alan is the founder of AusOcean, a not-for-profit organization with the mission of developing and applying technology to learn more about the world’s oceans. He also serves as the Engineering Director at Google Australia. He is responsible for Google’s research and development operations, specifically to build and manage the team in Australia so that more of Google’s innovations, like Google Maps, come from down under.
Miki Fukushima & Sam Kulla
Miki and Sam collected two samples, which contained one transparent fiber. Miki has a BA Global Studies from UC Santa Barbara, and is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish. He has experience in outdoor leadership and education in countries such as Iceland, Costa Rica, and Japan. Sam has a BA in Geography and Spanish from the University of Montana. He is passionate about writing, music, and renewable energy.
Summer Rains Expedition
Tyler Houck, Trevor Sheehan & David Wells
Tyler, Trevor, and David collected one sample which contained two pieces of microplastics: one black fiber and one black fragment. The team is a group of class V+ whitewater kayakers exploring rivers in Southern Africa. Tyler has worked internationally in the whitewater industry in Africa, South America, and Asia. He holds a BS in Ecotourism from West Virginia University. He spends the North American summer managing Wet Planet Whitewater, a rafting and kayaking company in Washington State. Trevor is the owner of Big Man’s Rotisserie in Washington. He is a community organizer and environmental advocate against plastic pollution in watersheds. He has spent time living and working in Zambia on the Zambezi River among many other international destinations. David is a lead kayak instructor at Wet Planet Whitewater. He holds a degree in Environmental Studies from Bowdoin College. He has managed a whitewater company in Uganda and lived in East Africa numerous times.
Trevor Bollmann & Alex Vanpelt
During their thru-hike of the River to River trail in Southern Illinois, Trevor and Alex collected two samples which contained one transparent filament. Trevor is currently working on his PhD in Earth and Planetary Sciences at Northwestern University. Alex has his MS in Forestry from Southern Illinois University.
WV John Lichter
John collected ten samples, which contained one blue filament and one transparent filament. John is a former raft guide, slalom kayak racer, and founder of Riversport School of Paddling. He is currently working as a Business Broker and President-Elect of Morgantown North Rotary Club.
WVMP Dylan Jones
This past spring, Dylan went on a mission to sample as many recreational rivers, streams, tributaries and lakes in West Virginia as time allowed, and encouraged his friends to do the same. Dylan collected fourteen samples which contained eight microplastics: seven blue fibers and one piece of transparent film. Dylan is a writer and photographer based in the mountains of West Virginia. He has collected data for Adventure Scientists in the American West, Thailand, Costa Rica, and Chile. He is managing editor of Highland Outdoors and a regular contributor to RootsRated. Dylan holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in public administration, both from West Virginia University.
Tomi collected two samples which contained one piece of microplastic, a red filament. Tomi collected samples from New, Kanawha, Elk, and Gualey Rivers
Though we’re finding an average of 8 pieces per liter for the project overall, there is much more microplastic in marine samples than freshwater samples. The average concentration of microplastic in marine samples is just under 12 pieces per liter. This is much greater than the average concentration in freshwater samples, which is over 1 piece per liter.
Another interesting trend we’re seeing is 90% of the microplastic we’ve counted is fibrous: the pieces are thread-like or line shaped. Finding a majority of these fibers in samples could suggest that microfibers are the primary microplastic input into waterways.
Thanks so much, again, for your dedication to this program and our shared waterways!