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Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/os-2020-50
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/os-2020-50
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 15 Jun 2020

Submitted as: research article | 15 Jun 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal OS.

Beaching patterns of plastic debris along the Indian Ocean rim

Mirjam van der Mheen1, Erik van Sebille2, and Charitha Pattiaratchi1 Mirjam van der Mheen et al.
  • 1Oceans Graduate School and the UWA Oceans Institute, the University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia
  • 2Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research Utrecht, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands

Abstract. A large percentage of global ocean plastic waste enters the northern hemisphere Indian Ocean (NIO). Despite this, it is unclear what happens to buoyant plastics in the NIO. Because the subtropics in the NIO is blocked by landmass, there is no subtropical gyre and no associated subtropical garbage patch in this region. We therefore hypothesise that plastics "beach" and end up on coastlines along the Indian Ocean rim. In this paper, we determine the influence of beaching plastics by applying different beaching conditions to Lagrangian particle tracking simulation results. Our results show that a large amount of plastic likely ends up on coastlines in the NIO, while some crosses the equator into the southern hemisphere Indian Ocean (SIO). In the NIO, the transport of plastics is dominated by seasonally reversing monsoonal currents, which transport plastics back and forth between the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. All buoyant plastic material in this region beaches within a few years in our simulations. Countries bordering the Bay of Bengal are particularly heavily affected by plastics beaching on coastlines. This is a result of both the large sources of plastic waste in the region, as well as ocean dynamics which concentrate plastics in the Bay of Bengal. During the intermonsoon period following the southwest monsoon season (September, October, November), plastics can cross the equator on the eastern side of the NIO basin into the SIO. Plastics that escape from the NIO into the SIO beach on eastern African coastlines and islands in the SIO or enter the subtropical SIO garbage patch.

Mirjam van der Mheen et al.

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Mirjam van der Mheen et al.

Video supplement

Indian Ocean plastic beaching at 8 km to the nearest coastline with a probability of p=0.05/5 days M. van der Mheen, E. van Sebille, and C. Pattiaratchi https://doi.org/10.5446/47056

Indian Ocean plastic beaching at 8 km to the nearest coastline with a probability of p=0.5/5 days M. van der Mheen, E. van Sebille, and C. Pattiaratchi https://doi.org/10.5446/47057

Indian Ocean plastic beaching at 8 km to the nearest coastline with a probability of p=0.95/5 days M. van der Mheen, E. van Sebille, and C. Pattiaratchi https://doi.org/10.5446/47058

Mirjam van der Mheen et al.

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Short summary
A large percentage of global ocean plastic enters the Indian Ocean through rivers but the fate of these plastics is generally unknown. In this paper, we use computer simulations to show that floating plastics “beach” and end up on coastlines throughout the Indian Ocean. Coastlines where a lot of plastic enters the ocean are heavily affected by beaching plastic, but plastics can also beach far from the source on remote islands and countries that contribute little plastic pollution of their own.
A large percentage of global ocean plastic enters the Indian Ocean through rivers but the fate...
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