TOPIOS (Tracking Of Plastic In Our Seas) is a 5-year (2017-2022) research project, funded through a European Research Council Starting Grant project to Erik van Sebille.
Its goal is to vastly improve our understanding of the way plastic litter moves through our ocean.
To achieve this, we will develop an innovative, powerful and comprehensive model for tracking marine plastic through our ocean.
TOPIOS has been awarded the first ERC Public Engagement with Research Award for the '7 myths about the plastic soup' project.Read the full abstract
The amount of plastic in our ocean is exponentially growing, with recent estimates of more than 5 million metric tonnes of plastic reaching the ocean each year. This plastic infiltrates the ocean food chain and thus poses a major threat to marine life. However, understanding of plastic movement and its budget in the ocean is inadequate to fully establish its environmental impact, prompting the EU and G7 to recently make marine litter a top science priority.
It is now recognised that the amount of plastic entering our ocean is several orders of magnitude larger than the estimates of floating plastic on the surface of the ocean. More than 99% of plastic within our ocean is therefore ‘missing’.
This TOPIOS project will make breakthroughs towards closing the plastic budget by creating a novel comprehensive modelling framework that tracks plastic movement through the ocean. Building on well-established previous work to follow generic water parcels through hydrodynamic ocean models, this project will modify these ‘virtual’ parcels to represent pieces of plastic by, for the first time, simulating fragmentation, sinking, beaching, wave-mixing and ingestion by biota.
The new parameterisations that underpin this modelling will be based on field data and new coastal flume wave tank lab experiments. The simulated plastic particles will be tracked within state-of-the-art hydrodynamic ocean models, in order to compute maps of pathways and transports around our oceans and on coastlines and in biota. This numerical modelling will be used to evaluate a broad suite of scenarios and test hypotheses, including where the risk to marine biota is greatest.
The results from this project will inform policymakers and the public on which countries, for example, are responsible for which part of the plastic problem, crucial for mitigation and legal frameworks. It will also inform engineers on where and how to best invest resources in mitigating the problem of plastic in our ocean.
Erik leads and coordinates the TOPIOS project. He is an expert in Lagrangian Ocean Analysis.
Delphine investigates how 3D ocean circulation impacts plastic transport.
Christian develops and improves the Parcels code used in TOPIOS to simulate plastic transport.
Steffie creates a tool that supports plastic cleanup in the Galapagos.
Laura investigates how to track floating plastic in currents from remote sensing.
Mikael investigates how to use machine learning to incorporate plastic distribution data into models.
Cleo investigates how plastic litter ends up on beaches.
Jose is an expert in wave flume experiments, and investigates how plastic ends up on beaches.
TOPIOS would like to thank the erc=science² project at Science|Business for support with some of these media exposures.