A RESEARCH ship set sail from Southampton yesterday to identify the effects and level of microplastics and carbon pollution in the ocean.

The RRS Discovery will take researchers to an observatory in the northeast of the Atlantic ocean to investigate the impact that tiny pieces of plastic can have on small marine organisms at the base of the food chain and keep record of microplastics sinking to the deep ocean.

The team on board will also try to identify how much carbon sinks to the interior ocean in a bid to help improve predictions of future climate.

The two-week expedition is led by the city’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC) and will see international researchers on board.

NOC scientist professor Richard Lampitt, pictured, who is leading the research expedition, said: “This is a great example of the NOC leading the way in facilitating international oceanography.

“Understanding carbon in the ocean, and so how it may change in the future, is fundamental to many aspects of oceanography, as well as improving predictions of our future climate.”

Sediment traps at 3000 metres below the ocean surface will collect the microplastics that sink to the deep ocean over the course of a year.

NOC scientist, Dr Katsiaryna Pabortsava, who will be conducting much of the research into microplastics on board, said: “Currently the microplastics we are seeing at the surface do not correlate with the amount we dispose into the ocean as a whole.

“Investigating distribution of microplastics throughout the water column and in the sediments could help solve this mystery about where pollution is going within the ocean.”

The team will be based at the Porcupine Abyssal Plain sustained ocean observatory (PAP-SO) in the Northeast Atlantic, where scientists have been collecting data for over 30 years.

The PAP-SO provides key time-series datasets for analysing the effect of climate change on the open ocean and deep-sea ecosystems.