Marine Anthropogenic Litter

pp 201-227

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.


Methodology Used for the Detection and Identification of Microplastics—A Critical Appraisal

  • Martin G. J. LöderAffiliated withAnimal Ecology I, University of BayreuthBiologische Anstalt Helgoland, Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Marine Station Email author 
  • , Gunnar GerdtsAffiliated withBiologische Anstalt Helgoland, Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Marine Station


Microplastics in aquatic ecosystems and especially in the marine environment represent a pollution of increasing scientific and societal concern, thus, recently a substantial number of studies on microplastics were published. Although first steps towards a standardization of methodologies used for the detection and identification of microplastics in environmental samples are made, the comparability of data on microplastics is currently hampered by a huge variety of different methodologies, which result in the generation of data of extremely different quality and resolution. This chapter reviews the methodology presently used for assessing the concentration of microplastics in the marine environment with a focus on the most convenient techniques and approaches. After an overview of non-selective sampling approaches, sample processing and treatment in the laboratory, the reader is introduced to the currently applied techniques for the identification and quantification of microplastics. The subsequent case study on microplastics in sediment samples from the North Sea measured with focal plane array (FPA)-based micro-Fourier transform infrared (micro-FTIR) spectroscopy shows that only 1.4 % of the particles visually resembling microplastics were of synthetic polymer origin. This finding emphasizes the importance of verifying the synthetic polymer origin of potential microplastics. Thus, a burning issue concerning current microplastic research is the generation of standards that allow for the assessment of reliable data on concentrations of microscopic plastic particles and the involved polymers with analytical laboratory techniques such as micro-FTIR or micro-Raman spectroscopy.


Detection of microplastics Focal plane array-based micro-FTIR imaging Identification of microplastics Microplastic Microplastic analysis Micro-FTIR spectroscopy