Soils are an important source of microplastics (MPs) to the atmosphere but the fluxes and mechanisms involved in MPs entrainment are not well understood. In the present study, a series of horizontally aligned sediment traps have been deployed at different heights within 1 m above the ground for a two-month period at various locations in an arid region (Sarakhs, Iran). MPs were isolated from sediments and were quantified and characterised according to size, colour, shape and polymer composition by established techniques. Most MPs were <250 μm in length, fibres were the most important shape, black and blue-green were the dominant colours, and polymer abundance decreased in the order polyethylene > nylon > polypropylene > polystyrene > polyethylene terephthalate. The distributions of sediment mass (range <0.01–9 g) and number of MPs (range = 0 to 21) were heterogeneous, both between sites and at the different heights sampled, and yielded median, vertically-averaged horizontal fluxes for the region of about 450 g m−2 d−1 and 2600 MP m−2 d−1, respectively. However, when data were pooled, the number of MPs normalised to sediment mass exhibited a significant inverse relationship with sediment mass, an effect attributed to the presence of ambient suspended MPs and sediment that are diluted by the suspension of soil and deposited MPs at higher wind speeds. The mechanisms of MP saltation and entrainment were not ascertained but a theoretical framework for threshold shear velocity based on regularly-shaped particles and density considerations is presented. Further experimental work is required to verify this framework, and in particular for fibrous MPs with different aerodynamic properties to soil particles.



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School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences