REVEAL – Formation of small plastic particles in the environment and their bioavailability, accumulation and impacts on aquatic species

REVEAL will focus on studying how small microplastic (sMP; <100 μm)
and nanoplastic (NP; <1 μm) particles are formed through degradation of larger plastic items and how these particles behave as they are transported from freshwater, through coastal brackish waters, and into the marine environment. This knowledge will be used to design environmentally relevant exposure scenarios so that the bioavailability, accumulation and potential for toxicological impacts can be assessed using aquatic organisms identified as being at highest risk to exposure. REVEAL will have a strong focus on developing and applying innovative combinations of analytical tools and approaches that are needed for identifying and quantifying sMP in natural waters. The application of these methods to complex environmental matrices such as sediments and biota will also be assessed. In a move away from using commercially available, ‘pristine’ spherical reference materials, REVEAL will produce and study partially degraded and irregular sMP and NP typically found in the environment. The project is developed around two specific case studies; polyethylene plastic bags and microplastic fibres from synthetic textiles. REVEAL will study how these consumer products degrade in aquatic environments, how the resulting sMP and NP degradation products behave in natural waters and whether these products are bioavailable to aquatic organisms. Importantly, REVEAL will determine whether sMP and NP are sufficiently small to transfer across biological barriers and bioaccumulate inside organisms, potentially causing adverse effects. By effectively communicating the knowledge generated, the project will contribute to increasing environmental awareness of this significant component of plastic pollution by informing strategically important international organisations such as the EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the UN’s Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection.

The aim of this project is to understand how plastic degradation leads to the formation of small microplastic (sMP) and nanoplastic (NP) particles in aquatic environments and REVEAL what properties influence their fate, bioavailability and potential for accumulation and impacts on aquatic organisms.


  • Develop and optimize advanced techniques to measure and quantify sMP and NP particles in environmental samples.
  • Investigate the degradation and fragmentation mechanisms of plastic into microplastic (MP), sMP and NP particles and generate reference test materials.
  • Determine the behaviour of sMP and NP in freshwater, brackish and marine waters, representing their transport from land to sea.
  • Study the bioavailability, uptake, accumulation and potential toxicity of sMP and NP particles by aquatic organisms from freshwater and marine ecosystems.
  • Disseminate project results to a range of audiences, including authorities, the private sector, academia and the general public.

Partners: SINTEF  (coordinator), NIVA, Gøteborgs Universitet (SE), Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris (FR)


Start: October 2020

End: October 2023

Funding agency: Norwegian Research Council (Miljøforsk)

Budget: NOK 10 mio