A Record Level Of Microplastics Found In Arctic Ice

Via: Tristan Vankann/Alfred Wegener Institute

In a new study published in Nature, it was revealed that record levels of microplastics have been discovered in Arctic sea ice.

The ice samples from the Arctic Ocean contained as many as 12,000 microplastic particles per liter of ice and the team of researchers have traced the trash to their origin.

In three expeditions in 2014 and 2015, the team gathered ice samples from five separate regions along an area that transports sea ice from the Central Arctic to the North Atlantic. An infrared spectrometer, which hits the plastic particles with infrared light and analyzes the different wavelengths reflected back, allowed scientists to identify the composition of the microplastics.

Melt pond on Arctic sea ice Via: Mar Fernandez/Alfred Wegener Institute

Over the course of three expeditions in 2014 and 2015, the team gathered ice samples from five separate regions along an area that transports sea ice from the Central Arctic to the North Atlantic. An infrared spectrometer, which hits the plastic particles with infrared light and analyzes the different wavelengths reflected back, allowed scientists to identify the makeup and composition of the microplastics. In doing so, the ice showed “heavy contamination”.

In a statement, researcher Gunnar Gerdts said, “Using this approach, we also discovered plastic particles that were only 11 micrometers across. That’s roughly one-sixth the diameter of a human hair, and also explains why we found concentrations of over 12,000 particles per liter of sea ice – which is two to three time higher than what we’d found in past measurements.”

Ice flows in the pacific waters of the Canadian Basin contained particularly high concentrations of a kind of plastic found in packaging material called polyethylene. The researchers believe these plastics are coming from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch after being pushed along the Bering Strait and into the Arctic Ocean..

In the shallow Siberian seas, the scientists found particles from ship paint as well as nylon waste from fishing nets. Here, the study suggest expanding shipping lanes due to the melting of the polar icecaps has resulted in the fishing industries leaving behind plastic and paint debris.

A total of 17 different types of microplastics – tiny particles that slough off of everyday materials – were found in the sea ice, including plastics used in vehicle parts, clothing, and cigarette filters.

“The sea ice binds all this plastic litter for two to a maximum of eleven years – the time it takes for ice floes from the marginal seas of Siberia or the North American Arctic to reach the Fram Strait, where they melt,” said Peeken.

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