To main content

An effective strategy for the monitoring of microplastics in complex aquatic matrices: Exploiting the potential of near infrared hyperspectral imaging (NIR-HSI)


Contamination by microplastics (MP) represents a critical environmental challenge with potential consequences at ecosystem, economic and societal levels. As the marine system is the final sink for MP, there is an urgent need to develop methods for the monitoring of synthetic particles in different marine compartments and sample matrices. Extensive evaluations are hindered by time and costs associated with to conventional MP spectroscopic analyses. The potential of near infrared hyperspectral imaging (NIR-HSI) has been recently evaluated. However, NIR-HSI has been poorly studied so far, limitedly to the detection of large particles (>300 μm), and its capability for direct characterization of MP in real marine matrices has not been considered yet. In the present study, a rapid near infrared hyperspectral imaging (NIR-HSI) method, coupled with a customised normalised difference image (NDI) strategy for data processing, is presented and used to detect MP down to 50 μm in environmental matrices. The proposed method is largely automated, without the need for extensive data processing, and enabled a successful identification of different polymers, both in surface water and mussel soft tissue samples, as well as on real field samples with environmentally occurring MP. NIR-HSI is applied directly on filters, without the need for particles pre-sorting or multiple sample purifications, avoiding time consuming procedures, airborne contaminations, particle degradation and loss. Thanks to the time and cost effectiveness, a large-scale implementation of this method would enable to extensively monitor the MP presence in natural environments for assessing the ecological risk related to MP contamination.


Academic article




  • Stefania Piarulli
  • Cristina Malegori
  • Ferrante Grasselli
  • Laura Airoldi
  • Silvia Prati
  • Rocco Mazzeo
  • Giorgia Sciutto
  • Paolo Oliveri


  • SINTEF Ocean / Climate and Environment
  • University of Genoa
  • University of Bologna
  • University of Padua



Published in





Pergamon Press

View this publication at Cristin