Microplastics in Flathead Lake, a large oligotrophic mountain lake in the USA

Xiong Xiong, Tyler H. Tappenbeck, Chenxi Wu, James J. Elser

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21 Scopus citations


Microplastics are contaminants that are closely associated with human activity and are often abundant even in remote areas. As the largest natural freshwater lake in the western USA, Flathead Lake is a suitable site to study microplastics in lakes in less-populated areas of North America. Our assessment of microplastics in lake surface water samples showed that microplastic densities and concentrations in Flathead Lake were similar to those in other lakes located in less-populated areas around the world, with densities ranging from 8.00 × 104 to 4.22 × 105 particles/km2 with a mean concentration of 1.89 × 105 particles/km2. Dry deposition rates for microplastics ranged from 4 to 140 particles/m2/day with an average of 69 particles/m2/day and were significantly higher in the fall. Microplastic concentrations in wet deposition ranged from 0.006 particles/mL to 0.050 particles/mL with highest concentrations in winter and lowest in summer. Fibrous microplastics were predominant in both lake water and atmospheric deposition. The high densities of microplastics in the sample sites located near the Flathead River inlet suggests that the river is an important source of microplastics to Flathead Lake. The high densities of microplastics and high proportions of non-fibrous microplastics near populated areas of the lake imply that local human activities also affect microplastics in Flathead Lake. Although the annual flux of microplastics in dry deposition was higher than that in wet deposition, the relatively modest difference suggests that precipitation might enhance the deposition of microplastics. The results of this study indicate that instituting increased control measures that target both reducing the microfibers generated by laundry and improving the overall level of plastic waste management in the watershed may help in controlling microplastic levels in Flathead Lake.

Original languageEnglish
Article number119445
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
StatePublished - Aug 1 2022


  • Atmospheric deposition
  • Lakes
  • Plastics
  • Remote area


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