Direct observation and identification of nanoplastics in ocean water




Moon, Seunghyun
Martin, Leisha M. A.
Kim, Seongmin
Zhang, Qiushi
Zhang, Renzheng
Xu, Wei
Luo, Tengfei

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Millions of tons of plastics enter the oceans yearly, and they can be fragmented by ultraviolet and mechanical means into nanoplastics. Here, we report the direct observation of nanoplastics in global ocean water leveraging a unique shrinking surface bubble deposition (SSBD) technique. SSBD involves optically heating plasmonic nanoparticles to form a surface bubble and leveraging the Marangoni flow to concentrate suspended nanoplastics onto the surface, allowing direct visualization using electron microscopy. With the plasmonic nanoparticles co-deposited in SSBD, the surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy effect is enabled for direct chemical identification of trace amounts of nanoplastics. In the water samples from two oceans, we observed nanoplastics made of nylon, polystyrene, and polyethylene terephthalate—all common in daily consumables. The plastic particles have diverse morphologies, such as nanofibers, nanoflakes, and ball-stick nanostructures. These nanoplastics may profoundly affect marine organisms, and our results can provide critical information for appropriately designing their toxicity studies.



nanoplastics, nylon, polystyrene, polyethylene terephalate


T.L., S.M., Q.Z., and R.Z. would like to thank the support from the U.S. National Science Foundation (1931850, 2040565, and 2001079) and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (GA-2018-268). W.X. is supported by NSF (1903719 and 1943431) and NIH (R15ES030955). The research vessel (R/V) Pelican was used for deep ocean water collection from the Gulf of Mexico. The usage of R/V Pelican was supported by X. Hu’s (TAMU-­Corpus Christi) research grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NA19OAR0170354). We thank N. Gan, M. Merrill, M. Brzezinski, C. Haley, S. Marbach, Y. Pang, F. Li, X. Jia, H. Moon, and S. Park (UNIST) for assistance in collecting water samples, and K. Hendricks for reading the manuscript. We also appreciate the partial support from the Notre Dame Integrated Imaging Facility and Materials Characterization Facility. We would also like to thank the support from the Open Access Publication Fund from the library and College of Science at TAMU-­CC.




Seunghyun Moon et al. ,Direct observation and identification of nanoplastics in ocean water.Sci. Adv.10,eadh1675(2024).DOI:10.1126/sciadv.adh1675