Optimizing Nuclear Techniques to Assess Microplastic Pollution in Coastal Areas

Open for proposals

Project Type

Coordinated Research Project

Project Code




Approved Date

18 November 2022


2 - New - Collecting or Evaluating proposals


Plastic pollution has become one of the major global environmental challenges of the century; projections show that by 2050 the oceans may have more plastic than fish. In the marine environment, microplastics are being sequestered across a variety of sedimentary environments globally, at a seemingly increasing rate. Marine sediment can thus be considering a sink of marine plastic pollution, and this can serve to survey marine plastic pollution.
Microplastic analyses applied to marine sedimentary records dated using nuclear techniques can reveal the history of plastic contamination and the efficacity of remediation efforts.  To that effect, it is necessary to assess whether the temporal trends of plastic accumulation in marine sediments reflect evolution of production and use of plastics on land. The need to design harmonized protocols to be used for monitoring the concentrations and polymer composition of marine microplastics has been discussed for many years, but it has been difficult to consensuate how to achieve this goal. Establishing a standard and improved technique will be highly beneficial for comparing spatial and temporal variations between different studies and will allow correlating microplastic production trends with the transport mechanisms and their ultimate fate in the seafloor.
Through this CRP, the IAEA will support the development, refinement, and application of techniques to assist Member States in assessing the marine plastic pollution status in their marine environment.


To improve global understanding of the abundance and impact of marine plastic pollution, using nuclear techniques in the sediment of marine environment. In this regard, the CRP will especially contribute to target 14.1 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including plastic litter.

Specific objectives

To optimize and harmonize techniques for the separation, identification and chemical characterization of microplastics in marine sediments.

To explore new methods of extraction of microplastics and identification of their components, and propose a combined extraction method for small microplastics.

To obtain a more accurate and clear understanding of the distributions and features (types and morphology) of microplastics in marine sediment.

To assess trends in microplastic contamination through a combination of conventional geochemical techniques, sediment dating, and protocols developed for the identification and classification of microplastics in sediment profiles.

To generate protocols and standard operating procedures.

To prepare and disseminate research findings and methodologies.

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