Plastic waste as a persistent contaminant of our environment is a matter of increasing concern due to the largely unknown long-term effects on biota. Although freshwater systems are known to be the transport paths of plastic debris to the ocean, most research has been focused on marine environments. In recent years, freshwater studies have advanced rapidly, but they rarely address the spatial distribution of plastic debris in the water column. A methodology for measuring microplastic transport at various depths that is applicable to medium and large rivers is needed. We present a new methodology offering the possibility of measuring microplastic transport at different depths of verticals that are distributed within a profile. The net-based device is robust and can be applied at high flow velocities and discharges. Nets with different sizes (41 µm, 250 µm, and 500 µm) are exposed in three different depths of the water column. The methodology was tested in the Austrian Danube River, showing a high heterogeneity of microplastic concentrations within one cross section. Due to turbulent mixing, the different densities of the polymers, aggregation, and the growth of biofilms, plastic transport cannot be limited to the surface layer of a river, and must be examined within the whole water column as for suspended sediments. These results imply that multipoint measurements are required for obtaining the spatial distribution of plastic concentration and are therefore a prerequisite for calculating the passing transport. The analysis of filtration efficiency and side-by-side measurements with different mesh sizes showed that 500 µm nets led to optimal results.
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