Aggregation of slightly buoyant microplastics in 3D vortex flows

Rypina, Irina I.; Pratt, Lawrence J.; Dotzel, Michael

Although the movement and aggregation of microplastics at the ocean surface have been well studied, less is known about the subsurface. Within the Maxey–Riley framework governing the movement of small, rigid spheres with high drag in fluid, the aggregation of buoyant particles is encouraged in vorticity-dominated regions. We explore this process in an idealized model that is qualitatively reminiscent of a 3D eddy with an azimuthal and overturning circulation. In the axially symmetric state, buoyant spherical particles that do not accumulate at the top boundary are attracted to a loop consisting of periodic orbits. Such a loop exists when drag on the particle is sufficiently strong. For small, slightly buoyant particles, this loop is located close to the periodic fluid parcel trajectory. If the symmetric flow is perturbed by a symmetry-breaking disturbance, additional attractors for small, rigid, slightly buoyant particles may arise near periodic orbits of fluid parcels within the resonance zones created by the disturbance. Disturbances with periodic or quasiperiodic time dependence may produce even more attractors, with a shape and location that recurs periodically. However, not all such loops attract, and rigid particles released in the vicinity of one loop may instead be attracted to a nearby attractor. Examples are presented along with mappings of the respective basins of attraction.

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Rypina, Irina I. / Pratt, Lawrence J. / Dotzel, Michael: Aggregation of slightly buoyant microplastics in 3D vortex flows. 2024. Copernicus Publications.

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