Incorporating terrain specific beaching within a lagrangian transport plastics model for Lake Erie

Microplast nanoplast. 2021;1(1):19. doi: 10.1186/s43591-021-00019-7. Epub 2021 Dec 11.


Mass estimates of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes based on surface samples differ by orders of magnitude from what is predicted by production and input rates. It has been theorized that a potential location of this missing plastic is on beaches and in nearshore water. We incorporate a terrain dependent beaching model to an existing hydrodynamic model for Lake Erie which includes three dimensional advection, turbulent mixing, density driven sinking, and deposition into the sediment. When examining parameter choices, in all simulations the majority of plastic in the lake is beached, potentially identifying a reservoir holding a large percentage of the lake's plastic which in previous studies has not been taken into account. The absolute amount of beached plastic is dependent on the parameter choices. We also find beached plastic does not accumulate homogeneously through the lake, with eastern regions of the lake, especially those downstream of population centers, most likely to be impacted. This effort constitutes a step towards identifying sinks of missing plastic in large bodies of water.

Keywords: Beaching; Lagrangian transport; Mathematical modeling; Microplastics; Plastic pollution; The Great Lakes.