Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences

CIRES Special Seminar: Patricia Corcoran

CIRES Special Seminar: Patricia Corcoran

Hidden Microplastics in the Great Lakes of North America: An invisible threat

by Dr. Patricia Corcoran - Western University, Canada

Abstract: Numerous manifestations of human interactions with Earth’s natural systems have the potential to threaten ecosystems and the organisms that inhabit them, but none may be as globally persistent as plastic debris. Plastic waste has been identified in all oceans, and along shorelines on every continent, but only recently has plastics pollution been reported from lake and river systems. Our research group focuses on the characteristics, accumulation, distribution and degradation of plastic particles in the Great Lakes of North America. More specifically, shoreline investigations along Lakes Huron, St. Clair, Erie and Ontario, combined with studies of lake bottom sediments from Lakes Ontario and Erie, indicate that much of the plastic debris is accumulating in hidden locations, such as buried sediment and organic-rich strandlines. In part, these plastic items are “invisible” because of their small size (generally

Bio: Dr. Patricia Corcoran is an Associate Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences, and the Director of the Centre for Environment and Sustainability at Western University, Canada. Her research focuses on natural and anthropogenic sedimentary deposits in order to gain an understanding of Earth's changing surface and atmospheric processes through time. One significant element of her research concerns the distribution, accumulation and degradation of plastic debris in shoreline and lake bottom sediments of the Great Lakes, for which she receives funding from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. Dr. Corcoran and her research group are investigating the potential for this plastic debris to become part of the future rock record, thereby representing a symbol of humankind's global effect on Earth's environment. Dr. Corcoran’s plastics research has resulted in extensive international coverage, including features in National Geographic Magazine, Science Magazine, Science et Vie, the New York Times and CBC’s The National.

Dr. Corcoran's visit is hosted by CIRES Fellow Kristy Tiampo (CU Boulder Department of Geological Sciences and Director of the CIRES Earth Science and Observation Center).


CIRES Auditorium