Record levels of microplastic in the Arctic

Arctic sea ice contains higher amounts of microscopically small microplastic than ever before. Samples from five regions contained up to 12,000 microplastic particles per litre of ice.

Microplastic in the Arctic Sea has reached a higher level than ever before, with 12,000 particles per litre of sea ice found in samples from five regions.

The plastic particles hailed primarily from packaging materials like polyethylene and polypropylene, as well as paints, nylon, polyester and cellulose acetate, which is used in the manufacture of cigarette filters.

Furthermore, the majority of the particles were microscopically small, according to the research conducted by scientists at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI).

“During our work, we realised that more than half of the microplastic particles trapped in the ice were less than a twentieth of a millimetre wide, which means they could easily be ingested by arctic microorganisms like ciliates, but also by copepods,” commented AWI biologist, Dr Ilka Peeken, in a statement.

She warned that it was impossible to say for certain how harmful these tiny plastic particles could be for marine life, or ultimately also for human beings.

The team gathered ice samples from five regions along the Transpolar Drift and the Fram Strait, which transports sea ice from the Central Arctic to the North Atlantic.

Peeken explained that 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.”

Conversely, this also means that sea ice transports large quantities of microplastic to the waters off the northeast coast of Greenland.

Photo credit: Markus Trienke/ CC BY-SA 2.0

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