Where does the litter go? Surface drifters reveal pathways of floating marine debris in tidally influenced areas of the North Sea

Thomas H. Badewien, University of Oldenburg, Institute for Chemistry and Biology of the Marine Environment, Wilhelmshaven, Germany, Jens Meyerjürgens, University of Oldenburg, ICBM, Oldenburg, Germany, Emil V. Stanev, Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht, Institute of Coastal Research, Geesthacht, Germany and Oliver Zielinski, University of Oldenburg, Marine Sensor Systems Group, Institute for Chemistry and Biology of the Marine Environment, Oldenburg, Germany
The coastal areas of the Southern North Sea are densely populated and ship traffic in the region is high. Various forms of litter stemming from these sources affect the coastal ecosystems and their use by humans. However, the pathways and the fate of floating marine litter (FML) are not well known. To understand the complex transport patterns of FML at the sea surface, Lagrangian observations are essential. Here, we present data sets on the routes of surface drifters in the tidally influenced coastal areas of the North Sea obtained from several field studies conducted between 2017 and 2019.

We designed low-budget surface drifters as part of the project “Macroplastics” that are particularly well suited for the use in shallow tidal basins (Meyerjürgens et al. 2019). The drifters were equipped with a GPS receiver and satellite communication for data transmission. The drifter motion simulates currents of the ocean surface layer (0.5 m) taking into account wave and wind induced motions. The results of the experiments reveal sub-mesoscale transport patterns as well as the dispersion, accumulation and potential beaching locations of FML. We also discuss how unusual weather conditions resulted in extreme westward surface of FML drift in the North Sea (Stanev et al. 2019) and draw general conclusions for future efforts to estimate the distribution of FML in the area.

Meyerjürgens J, Badewien TH,Garaba SP, Wolff J-O and Zielinski O, (2019), A State-of-the-Art CompactSurface Drifter Reveals Pathways ofFloating Marine Litter in the GermanBight. Front. Mar. Sci. 6:58.doi: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00058

E.V. Staneva , T.H. Badewien, H. Freund, S. Grayek, F. Hahner, J. Meyerjürgens,M. Ricker, R.I. Schöneich-Argent, J.-O. Wolff, O. Zielinski (2019), Extreme westward surface drift in the North Sea: Public reports of strandeddrifters and Lagrangian tracking, Continental Shelf ResearchVolume 177, 1 April 2019, Pages 24-32, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.csr.2019.03.003