Anja Herkner
Institute of Rural Studies

Bundesallee 64
38116 Braunschweig
Phone: +49 531 596 5501
Fax: +49 531 596 5599

Microplastic in the environment – Analyses of the Warnow catchment


Plastic mulch used for growing strawberries (c) Gabriele Planthaber
Plastic mulch used for growing strawberries (© Gabriele Planthaber

Analysing Microplastics Sinks and Sources from a typical Catchment area to the open Baltic

Microplastic pollution in the oceans is increasing worldwide. High concentrations found at the mouth of rivers suggest a substantial contribution of contamination from inland. To what extent is agriculture responsible for these inputs?

Background and Objective

To date, microplastic research is mainly restricted to oceans. Studies are missing that elucidate the connections between contaminations across multiple ecosystems. Plastic tarps used in agriculture, or microplastic entering the field with application of sewage sludge and fermentation residues, can accumulate in the soil and erode into surface waters.

In the exemplary Warnow river catchment (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern),  this collaborative project funded by the Federal Mistry of Education and Research will identify microplastic sources and sinks on land and in surface waters. The use of models will help quantify relevant pathways into the open Baltic. In a sub-project, the Thünen Institute approaches the aim to estimate spatial distributions of microplastics on fields and field margins and to identify pollution hot spots. Eventually these results will be used to infer potential mitigation measures.


In a first step, a land use analysis will identify areas that qualify for microplastic sources due to their historical land use. Remote sensing images, statistic data and expert information will be used amongst others. Then, we will analyse selected soil samples from the catchment area on their microplastic amounts and characteristics. This analysis serves as the basis to estimate microplastic amounts for the entire catchment area. The results will feed into a hydrogeological model that quantifies the pathways into surface waters.

Our Research Questions

What are the relevant sources and sinks of microplastic associated with agriculture?

Do non-agricultural sources, such as plastic litter in road side ditches, play a role?

How can input pathways be characterized, e.g., do lakes act as a sink?


Involved Thünen-Partners

Involved external Thünen-Partners


8.2017 - 7.2020

More Information

Projekt type:
Project status: ongoing

Publications to the project

hits: 0