Can a Sediment Core Reveal the Plastic Age? Microplastic Preservation in a Coastal Sedimentary Record

Laura Simon-Sánchez*, Michaël Grelaud, Claudia Lorenz, Jordi Garcia-Orellana, Alvise Vianello, Fan Liu, Jes Vollertsen, Patrizia Ziveri

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The seafloor is the major sink for microplastic (MP) pollutants. However, there is a lack of robust data on the historical evolution of MP pollution in the sediment compartment, particularly the sequestration and burial rate of small MPs. By combining a palaeoceanographic approach and state-of-the-art analytical methods for MP identification down to 11 μm in size, we present the first high-resolution reconstruction of MP pollution from an undisturbed sediment core collected in the NW Mediterranean Sea. Furthermore, we investigate the fate of MPs once buried in the sediments by evaluating the changes in the size distribution of the MPs and the weathering status of the polyolefins, polyethylene, and polypropylene. Our results indicate that the MP mass sequestered in the sediment compartment mimics the global plastic production from 1965 to 2016. We observed an increase in the weathering status of the polyolefins as the size decreased. However, the variability in the size and weathering status of the MPs throughout the sedimentary record indicated that these pollutants, once incorporated into sediments, remain preserved with no further degradation under conditions lacking remobilization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16780-16788
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number23
Early online date14 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 6 Dec 2022


  • accumulation
  • carbonyl index
  • microplastics
  • sediments
  • weathering


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