Modeling the Input and Transport of Plastic Pollution in the Great Lakes

Matthew J. Hoffman, Assistant Professor, School of Mathematical Sciences, Rochester Institute of Technology

Friday, March 31, 2017
1:30 p.m.

Hopeman 224

In the past few years, plastic pollution has been recognized as a serious concern within the Great Lakes. Open water sampling campaigns and beach cleanups have established the presence of plastic particles, but are only available at certain times and in certain places. For this reason they are limited in their ability to quantify the scope of the problem or predict the fate of plastic particles, which is crucial to understanding the risk to fish and other wildlife. To further our understanding of the abundance and fate of plastic pollution, we have estimated the input of plastic from the shorelines of the Great Lakes and modeled the transport of this debris through the Lakes over a six-year period using velocity fields from NOAA's Great Lakes Coastal Forecast System. These allow for the first spatiotemporal maps of plastic abundance in the Great Lakes and the first estimates of the mass of floating microplastic particles in Lake Erie, Michigan, and Huron.