Stubbins and Munoz Published in Science for Plastics in the Earth System

Plastics are a pervasive source of pollution. And they might also be significantly altering the Earth’s carbon cycle and our ability to monitor it, according to research by Northeastern’s Aron Stubbins. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

A research paper, titled, “Plastics in the Earth System” by Associate Professor Aron Stubbins, MES/COS/CEE, and Assistant Professor Samuel E. Muñoz, MES/CEE, was published in the journal Science. The research covers plastics in the air and water, and their growing importance to geochemists given their abundance and ubiquity in our environment.

Abstract: Plastic contamination of the environment is a global problem whose magnitude justifies the consideration of plastics as emergent geomaterials with chemistries not previously seen in Earth’s history. At the elemental level, plastics are predominantly carbon. The comparison of plastic stocks and fluxes to those of carbon reveals that the quantities of plastics present in some ecosystems rival the quantity of natural organic carbon and suggests that geochemists should now consider plastics in their analyses. Acknowledging plastics as geomaterials and adopting geochemical insights and methods can expedite our understanding of plastics in the Earth system. Plastics also can be used as global-scale tracers to advance Earth system science.

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Related Faculty: Aron Stubbins, Samuel Munoz

Related Departments:Civil & Environmental Engineering