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Mar Pollut Bull. 2011 Aug;62(8):1708-13. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2011.05.032. Epub 2011 Jun 22.

Small plastic debris changes water movement and heat transfer through beach sediments.

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Marine Science Department, University of Hawai'i at Hilo, 200 W. Kawili St., Hilo, HI 96720, United States.


We investigated the physical properties of beaches contaminated with plastic fragments. We compared sediment cores from Hawai'i Island's Kamilo Beach, notable for plastic accumulation, to cores from a nearby beach. Compared to the nearby beach, Kamilo sediments contained more plastics (up to 30.2% by weight), were coarser-grained, and were more permeable (t-test, p<0.0001). 85% of the fragments were polyethylene, and 95% were concentrated in the top 15 cm of the cores. We constructed artificial cores of standardized grain size and varying plastic-to-sediment ratios. Adding plastic significantly increased the permeability (ANOVA, p=0.002), which was partially attributed to the fragments increasing the mean grain size. Sediments with plastic warmed more slowly (16% maximum decrease in thermal diffusivity), and reached lower maximum temperatures (21% maximum increase in heat capacity). These changes have a variety of potential effects on beach organisms, including those with temperature-dependent sex-determination such as sea turtle eggs.

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