Giving Compass' Take:

• Research indicates that marine plastic is being swept up by the ocean breeze and transferred into the atmosphere. 

• How does this research help inform us about protecting ourselves around microplastic and pollution? 

• Learn more about microplastic pollution. 

Want to know how much plastic is entering the ocean every year? I regret to inform you that nobody knows. A commonly cited figure — 8 million metric tons — comes from a decade-old estimate based on population and waste data, and scientists now believe the number could be significantly higher. But there’s an even more puzzling question for researchers who study plastic in the ocean: Where has it all gone?

Field studies of marine plastic have accounted for only a small fraction of the material that scientists believe has been dumped into the seas, leading researchers to wonder where the rest of it is. A peer-reviewed study published in PLOS ONE this month backs up one theory for what could be happening to at least some of the missing plastic: Tiny particles are getting spat back out of the ocean and up into the atmosphere.

“It shows that the ocean is not only a sink but also a source of microplastics,” Melanie Bergmann, a marine ecologist who was not involved in the study, told Grist in an email. “And that it is all connected, in line with the hydrological cycle somehow.” (“Hydrological cycle” is a fancy name for the water cycle.) Last summer, Bergmann published a study that found evidence of microplastics in Arctic snow, and in that study she raised the question of whether some of it may have traveled from the sea to the atmosphere.

Read the full article about marine plastic by Emily Pontecorvo at Grist.