Aarhus Universitets segl

Microplastic fate in soil

Main subject area: Microplastic; spectroscopy; vis–NIR; FTIR; microplastic sorption and leaching

Short project description

Though the recycling efficiency of microplastic (MP) constantly improves, plastic leakage to the environment is evident on all scales and in all ecosystems, and presents not only an environmental threat, but also a human health threat. There is a lack of standardized analytical methods to isolate, detect and quantify MP in soil. In this project we try to merge state-of-the-art spectroscopic techniques with MP transport and fate in soil. Visible–Near Infrared (vis–NIR) and Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, will be applied to characterize and quantify the levels of MP in three projects:  

Project 1: Microplastic isolation and spectroscopic analysis

This project aims to test the capabilities of vis–NIR and FTIR spectroscopy to determine the levels and type of MP in soils from various ecosystems. MP isolation techniques will be carried out on soils from ecosystems exposed to MP (synthetic football fields, garden centers, dump sites, park areas, road sites and agricultural fields) to determine the levels of MP in the samples and the results will be compared to novel spectroscopy techniques for MP levels and type.

Project 2: The sorption potential of microplastic to soil

MP is known to form complexes with soil organic matter and minerals, which hinder analytical detection and characterization of MP. Here, the sorption potential of MP to soil organic matter and soil minerals will be tested in batch sorption experiments with different soil types. The vis–NIR and the FTIR spectroscopy techniques will be used to determine the levels of MP. 

Project 3: The microplastic leaching potential

In this project, the leaching/transport potential of small MP particles will be examined on intact soil columns (20x20 cm). We aim to test whether microplastic particles <1 mm are able to move in the soil, depending on soil type, and whether MP contamination poses a threat to below-ground water reservoirs.

Project start

From September 2024 and until January 2025

Physical location of project and students work

Department of Agroecology, AU Viborg

Extent and type of project

30 ECTS: Theoretical thesis based on literature studies and/or analysis of issued and edited data sets.

45 ECTS: Experimental thesis in which the student is responsible for collection and analysis of his/her own original data.

60 ECTS: Experimental thesis in which the student is responsible for planning, trial design and collection and analysis of his/her own original data.