Microplastics are substrates for microbial activity and can influence biomass production. This has potentially important implications in the sea-surface microlayer, the marine boundary layer that controls gas exchange with the atmosphere and where biologically produced organic compounds can accumulate. In the present study, we used six large scale mesocosms to simulate future ocean scenarios of high plastic concentration. Each mesocosm was filled with 3 m3 of seawater from the oligotrophic Sea of Crete, in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. A known amount of standard polystyrene microbeads of 30 μm diameter was added to three replicate mesocosms, while maintaining the remaining three as plastic-free controls. Over the course of a 12-day experiment, we explored microbial organic matter dynamics in the sea-surface microlayer in the presence and absence of microplastic contamination of the underlying water. Our study shows that microplastics increased both biomass production and enrichment of carbohydrate-like and proteinaceous marine gel compounds in the sea-surface microlayer. Importantly, this resulted in a ∼3 % reduction in the concentration of dissolved CO2 in the underlying water. This reduction was associated to both direct and indirect impacts of microplastic pollution on the uptake of CO2 within the marine carbon cycle, by modifying the biogenic composition of the sea's boundary layer with the atmosphere.
- Dissolved and particulate organic matter
- Marine gel particles
- Sea-surface microlayer