EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Source activation or fluvial transport – dynamic controls on spatial patterns and temporal dynamics of plastic pollution in river corridors

Stefan Krause1,2, Holly Nel3, Uwe Schneidewind1, Anna Kukkola1, Jennifer Drummond1, Liam Kelleher1, Iseult Lynch1, Greg Sambrook Smith1, Rob Runkel4, Deonie Allen5, Steve Allen6, Mohammad Wazne2, Andre-Marie Dendievel2, Laurent Simon2, Florian Mermillod-Blondin2, Lee Haverson1, Yasmin Yonan1, Brice Mourier2, Herve Piegay2, and Jesus Gomez-Velez7
Stefan Krause et al.
  • 1University of Birmingham, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Birmingham, United Kingdom of Great Britain – England, Scotland, Wales (
  • 2Univ Lyon, University of Lyon 1, ENTPE, UMR CNRS 5023 LEHNA
  • 3CEFAS - Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science
  • 4United States Geological Survey
  • 5Strathclyde University
  • 6Dalhousie University
  • 7Vanderbilt University

Microplastic pollution has been found to be ubiquitous in freshwater ecosystems around the world, with global models predicting river network contributions to the oceans to present major and still increasing sources of marine plastic waste. While previous research has to a large degree focussed on identifying potential sources of plastic pollution to freshwater ecosystems (such as wastewater treatment plants, storm sewers, urban areas), and attributing these to observed microplastic pollution patterns in river corridors, little is known under what conditions potential pollution sources become activated and connected to surface waters, and how the fluvial transport of different micro- and nanoplastic size fractions determines spatial patterns of plastics along river networks, including long-term deposition, storage and potential resuspension.

This paper integrates field-based evidence of our global river microplastic survey and several comparative large river network studies (including the rivers Ganges, Boulder Creek, Rhone, and others) with river basin to global scale plastic fate and transport models to identify major drivers of hotspots and hot moments of riverine plastic pollution. Our results highlight under what conditions prior knowledge of the source distributions of plastic pollution carries significant predictive capacity for expected river corridor microplastic concentrations and when (and where) these patters can get transformed substantially by fluvial transport (and transformation) processes. Fusing this experimental evidence with our model predictions revealed significant differences in the downstream footprint, longevity and legacy of dominant sources and transport controls of plastics in the water column and in streambed sediments, driven by gravitational settling, hyporheic exchange flow and resuspension processes.  

How to cite: Krause, S., Nel, H., Schneidewind, U., Kukkola, A., Drummond, J., Kelleher, L., Lynch, I., Sambrook Smith, G., Runkel, R., Allen, D., Allen, S., Wazne, M., Dendievel, A.-M., Simon, L., Mermillod-Blondin, F., Haverson, L., Yonan, Y., Mourier, B., Piegay, H., and Gomez-Velez, J.: Source activation or fluvial transport – dynamic controls on spatial patterns and temporal dynamics of plastic pollution in river corridors, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-1528,, 2022.