EGU21-7858, updated on 14 Jan 2022
EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

The Trash Tracker: A Macroplastic Fate and Transport Model at River Basin Scale

Yvette Mellink1,2, Tim van Emmerik1, Charlotte Laufkötter3,4, Merel Kooi5, and Helge Niemann2,6,7
Yvette Mellink et al.
  • 1Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands
  • 2Department of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands
  • 3Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
  • 4Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
  • 5Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands
  • 6Department of Marine Microbiology and Biogeochemistry, NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, ‘t Horntje, the Netherlands
  • 7CAGE - Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate, Department of Geosciences, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway

Plastic pollution in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems is of growing global concern due to its negative impact on environmental health and human livelihood. Most plastic research to date focused on observing and modelling plastic in the oceans, revealing that the highest plastic concentrations are found in the five ocean gyres (“the garbage patches”). Plastic waste originating from land has been identified as the main source of marine plastic debris. Yet it remains highly uncertain which processes control the mobilisation and transport of plastic waste over land to rivers and eventually to the ocean. Here, we introduce the Trash Tracker, a numerical model to forecast the pathways and fate of plastic waste in terrestrial and freshwater systems. In this model, the plastic transporting agents, wind and surface runoff, are resisted by the friction of the terrain. The terrain resistance, a function of the surface slope and the type of land use, is translated to thresholds that define the critical wind and surface runoff conditions required to mobilise and transport macroplastics. By repeatedly checking whether the wind and/or surface runoff conditions are strong enough to overcome their respective thresholds, the Trash Tracker simulates the transport of plastics and allows us to identify accumulation hotspots and high probability transport routes of plastic waste within river basins. This makes the Trash Tracker a practical tool for preventing, mitigating and reducing plastic pollution in the natural environment.

How to cite: Mellink, Y., van Emmerik, T., Laufkötter, C., Kooi, M., and Niemann, H.: The Trash Tracker: A Macroplastic Fate and Transport Model at River Basin Scale, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-7858,, 2021.