Size Distributions of Microplastics in the St Louis Estuary and Western Lake Superior

Ariyah Thomas, Joseph Marchand, Guenter D. Schwoerer, Elizabeth C. Minor, Melissa A. Maurer-Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Identifying the sources and fate of microplastics in natural systems has garnered a great deal of attention because of their implications for ecosystem health. This work characterizes the size fraction, morphology, color, and polymer composition of microplastics in western Lake Superior and its adjacent harbor sampled in August and September 2021. The results reveal that the overall microplastic counts are similar, with the harbor stations ranging from 0.62 to 3.32 microplastics per liter and the lake stations ranged from 0.83 to 1.4 microplastics per liter. However, meaningful differences between the sample locations can be seen in the size fraction trends and polymer composition. Namely, the harbor samples had relatively larger amounts of the largest size fraction and more diversity of polymer types, which can be attributed to the urbanized activity and shorter water residence time. Power law size distribution modeling reveals deviations that help in the understanding of potential sources and removal mechanisms, although it significantly underpredicts microplastic counts for smaller-sized particles (5-45 μm), as determined by comparison with concurrently collected microplastic samples enumerated by Nile Red staining and flow cytometry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8480-8489
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number19
StatePublished - May 14 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors. Published by American Chemical Society.


  • Lake Superior
  • freshwater
  • microFTIR
  • microplastics
  • morphology
  • polymer composition
  • power law
  • size


Dive into the research topics of 'Size Distributions of Microplastics in the St Louis Estuary and Western Lake Superior'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this