Plastic particles are ubiquitous in the marine environment. Given their low density, they have the tendency to float on the sea surface, with possible impacts on the sea surface microlayer (SML). The SML is an enriched biofilm of marine organic matter, that plays a key role in biochemical and photochemical processes, as well as controlling gas exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere. Recent studies indicate that plastics can interfere with the microbial cycling of carbon. However, studies on microplastic accumulation in the SML are limited, and their effects on organic matter cycling in the surface ocean are poorly understood. To explore potential dynamics in this key ocean compartment, we ran a controlled experiment with standard microplastics in the surface and bulk water of a marine monoculture. Bacterial abundance, chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM), and oxygen concentrations were measured. The results indicate an accumulation of CDOM in the SML and immediate underlying water when microplastic particles are present, as well as an enhanced oxygen consumption. If extrapolated to a typical marine environment, this indicates that alterations in the quality and reactivity of the organic components of the SML could be expected. This preliminary study shows the need for a more integrated effort to our understanding the impact of microplastics on SML functioning and marine biological processes.
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