Plastic in global rivers: are floods making it worse?

Roebroek, Caspar T.J.; Harrigan, Shaun; van Emmerik, Tim H.M.; Baugh, Calum; Eilander, Dirk; Prudhomme, Christel; Pappenberger, Florian. 2021 Plastic in global rivers: are floods making it worse? Environmental Research Letters, 16 (2), 025003. 11, pp.

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Riverine plastic pollution is of global concern due to its negative impact on ecosystem health and human livelihood. Recent studies show a strong link between river discharge and plastic transport, but the role of floods is still unresolved. We combined high-resolution mismanaged plastic waste data and river flood extents with increasing return periods to estimate flood-driven plastic mobilisation, from local to global scale. We show that 10 year return period floods already tenfold the global plastic mobilisation potential compared to non-flood conditions. In the worst affected regions, plastic mobilisation increases up to five orders of magnitude. Our results suggest a high inter-annual variability in plastic mobilisation, previously ignored by global plastic transport models. Flood defences reduce plastic mobilisation substantially, but regions vulnerable to flooding often coincide with high plastic mobilisation potential during floods. Consequentially, clean-up and mitigation measures and flood risk management are inherently interdependent and need to be managed holistically.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: UKCEH Fellows
ISSN: 1748-9326
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
Additional Keywords: floods, riverine plastic pollution, plastic mobilisation
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 26 Feb 2021 10:08 +0 (UTC)

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