Arctic sea ice loaded with microplastics

Scientists who collected the Arctic sea ice were shocked at the amount of plastic of all kinds it contained—beads, filaments, ny
Scientists who collected the Arctic sea ice were shocked at the amount of plastic of all kinds it contained—beads, filaments, nylons

At first glance, it looks like hard candy laced with flecks of fake fruit, or a third grader's art project confected from recycled debris.

In reality, it's a sliver of Arctic Ocean sea ice riddled with microplastics, extracted by scientists from deep inside an ice block that likely drifted southward past Greenland into Canada's increasingly navigable Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

"We didn't expect this amount of plastic, we were shocked," said University of Rhode Island ice expert Alessandra D'Angelo, one of a dozen scientists collecting and analysing data during an 18-day expedition aboard the Swedish icebreaker Oden.

"There is so much of it, and of every kind—beads, filaments, nylons," she told AFP from Greenland, days after completing the voyage.

Plastic pollution was not a primary focus of the Northwest Passage Project, funded by the US National Science Foundation and Heising-Simons Foundation.

Led by oceanographer Brice Loose, the multi-year mission is investigating how global warming might transform the biochemistry and ecosystems of the expansive Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

'Punch to the stomach'

One key question is whether the receding ice pack and influx of fresh water will boost the release into the atmosphere of methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent that CO2.

The Arctic region has warmed twice as quickly as the global average, some two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Average Arctic sea ice extent set a record low for July, nearly 20 percent below the 1981-2010 average, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported on Thursday.

But plastics has inserted itself onto the research agenda all the same.

Map showing the likely path of a drifting Arctic sea ice block in which samples extracted by scientists showed microplastic cont
Map showing the likely path of a drifting Arctic sea ice block in which samples extracted by scientists showed microplastic content

"The ubiquity of plastic, for us it was kind of a punch to the stomach," Loose said.

"Just to see what looked like a normal ice core in such a pristine environment chock full of this completely foreign material."

A study published Thursday in Science Advances concluded that a large quantity of microplastic fragments and fibres are transported by winds into the Arctic region, and then hitch a ride Earthward in snowflakes.

At the same time, several million tonnes of plastics find their way each year directly into oceans, where waves and the Sun break them down into microscopic bits over time.

'Acts like a sieve'

For the samples collected by Loose's team—near the hamlet of Resolute—the low salinity and thickness of the ice left no doubt that it was more than a year old, and had originated in the northern Arctic Ocean.

The concentration of plastic bits in the ice was far higher than in surrounding water.

"As water freezes it forms crystals," explained Jacob Strock, another member of the team from the University of Rhode Island.

"Water passes through these crystals as they form," he told AFP. "The ice acts like a sieve, filtering out particles in the water."

Tiny plants and animals, called plankton, also get trapped in the ice. Some plankton ingest the plastic bits, which then work their way up the ocean food chain.

Plastic particles have recently been found inside fish in the deepest recesses of the ocean, called the Mariana Trench, and blanketing the most pristine snows in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain.

In the last two decades, the world has produced as much as during the rest of history, and the industry is set to grow by four percent a year until 2025, according to a recent report by Grand View Research.


Explore further

Scientists discover abundance of plastic built up in sea ice collected in the Arctic's Northwest Passage

More information: Melanie Bergmann et al. White and wonderful? Microplastics prevail in snow from the Alps to the Arctic, Science Advances (2019). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax1157
Journal information: Science Advances

© 2019 AFP

Citation: Arctic sea ice loaded with microplastics (2019, August 16) retrieved 19 September 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-08-arctic-sea-ice-microplastics.html
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Aug 16, 2019
Who is responsible for putting plastic in the Alps and the Arctic? Resolute Bay is the central geographical region of the vast Canadian land very difficult to reach for a common man even for tourism.

Aug 17, 2019
Who is responsible for putting plastic in the Alps and the Arctic? Resolute Bay is the central geographical region of the vast Canadian land very difficult to reach for a common man even for tourism.


The wind? Ocean currents?

Aug 17, 2019
and has the same impact on biologic systems as silicon dioxide

Aug 17, 2019
I was the first to address this I'm many lawsuits going back 30 years. PCB laced microplastic has replaced plankton as the beginning of the food chain and is the greatest risk to mankind's survival. Phytoplankton sequesters the CO2 we worry about and creates most of the oxygen we breath. It's half gone in my lifetime. As it goes we go.

Aug 17, 2019
Fishing nets are usually made of plastic. I would expect some plastic fibers to exist where man fishes.

Aug 17, 2019
BTW our great president wants to buy greenland. Brilliant idea! As the ice melts, much new real estate emerges to be developed. And it will be largely plastic and pollutant free as this will be carried into the seas by the runoff.

Plus Denmark won't be able to afford the global govt taxes on all this undeveloped land. We will. Just thinking out loud you know.

Aug 17, 2019
These darker non-white plastics in arctic ice will be a natural warmer of the ice, helping it to melt faster each year. At the same time Arctic temperatures will spike higher. Maybe we should blame plastics more than CO2 or CH4.

Aug 18, 2019
Humans are stupid. They use and toss, and let the other guy worry about it.
Best to gather up all of the plastics in the oceans and recycle it all. The one big problem is the paper labels that are stuck to the plastic with glue that refuse to come off. Recycling companies don't want plastics that have glued paper stuck to them.

Aug 18, 2019
Recycling your Waste

If you are going recycle your products
"The one big problem is the paper labels that are stuck to the plastic with glue that refuse to come off"
You have to make your products in such a way they can be recycled
Following the journey your products trail takes to its recycling plant
Taking into account every twist and turn
So that
When Waitrose sticks barcode labels on your product
You have strategies, so that
The recycling manager
Is able
To remove some thing, as simple as a sticky paper barcode
Fore as SEU hath pointed out
This billion dollar recycling program of plastic nasties
Is defeated by environmental sticky paper

Oh! the irony - trying to green defeated by the wood from the trees

Aug 18, 2019
The Problem is plastic production, it has to STOP. OIL HAS TO HALT there are many other materials that can replace plastics, MANY ! ! ! ! !

Aug 18, 2019
The Problem is plastic production, it has to STOP. OIL HAS TO HALT there are many other materials that can replace plastics, MANY ! ! ! ! !


Such as???
Plastic products are capable of keeping air and moisture out of the container so that your food won't rot so quickly.
Your child's water wings are made of plastic that hold air in so that your child won't drown.
You can store water in a plastic bag and freeze it into ice.
You can store your clothes in a big plastic bag, squeeze all of the air out of it, and the whole thing will become a smaller size for storage.
You can keep your important documents in plastic to avoid them getting wet or moldy.
Your computer's frame and peripherals are made of plastic.
Your flash drives, CDs, DVD, phones, cameras, parts of your refrigerator, microwave are made of plastics.
Your polyester clothing, shoes are made of plastics.
Your car or truck's dashboard and other parts are made of plastics.
Your measles shots are given with plasti

Aug 18, 2019
@granville
I certainly IS ironic that the plastic recycling companies are unable to take action to TRY to remove all of the paper stuck onto plastics with glue that holds fast to the surface. They can't have paper/glue adhesives on it before they melt the plastics down to use it over again. The paper and adhesive would contaminate the end product.
We sometimes try to remove it from plastic bags, plastic wrappers, plastic boxes, but the act of removing it is too lengthy that could be better used for doing something else. We often are able to remove the paper, but the adhesive doesn't come off. So it goes into the trash compactor, while the clean plastic gets recycled. But at least we do make an effort.

Aug 19, 2019
The Problem is plastic production, it has to STOP. OIL HAS TO HALT there are many other materials that can replace plastics, MANY ! ! ! ! !


Such as???blablahblah


I'm not here to baby sit you, use those claws to type some useful keywords into google, the alternatives for plastics is HUGE... OIL PRODUCTION NEEDS TO CEASE NOW ! ! !


Aug 19, 2019
You made a statement. I asked you a question. Instead of answering you have just given me the run-around trying to avoid giving a cogent alternative to plastics. Grow a brain and have the decency to give a proper answer to a proper query. If you can't do it, then you're not worth discussing it with.

Aug 19, 2019

You made a statement ? I gave you an answer, if those 2 peas find it difficult to tell those paws to press the buttons on the keyboard, then you need help ;)
Discussion ?? lol, there is no discussion, only comedy when all your denier stupidity gets exposed every day.

Aug 19, 2019
You can store your clothes in a big plastic bag, squeeze all of the air out of it, and the whole thing will become a smaller size for storage
They can make electronic gadgets out of plastic so you can merely clap rather than having to drag your fat smelly ass off the couch to turn off the lights.

They can make prophylactics out of plastic to prevent incredible morons like yourself from being born.

Etc

Aug 19, 2019
Microplastics and other contaminants could ultimately make this planet uninhabitable, forcing humanity to start anew elsewhere in the solar system. Plastic garbage inevitably gets ground into these microscopic bits. And once distributed throughout the air, water, soil, and the food chain there is no way to keep from breathing them in or ingesting them.

Hydrocarbons are present throughout the solar system. We can perhaps restrict their use on other planets. Mars gives us the opportunity to isolate plastics manufacture and disposal on the surface from their use in underground cities and reservoirs. But maybe not. Consumer products and construction materials will degrade from friction and corrosion, and microplastic pollution will still proliferate unless we can learn to live without it entirely.

The same is probably true for nanomaterials made from carbon and other elements.
Cont>

Aug 19, 2019
This is a major advantage of a planet such as mars where we can live underground while keeping the manufacturing and energy production on the surface. Perhaps we could retreat underground on this planet, effectively filtering air and water. Perhaps we already have... see the 'Taos hum'. Nuke tunnelers might have been at work for decades now.

Earth's surface may have to sit fallow for a few centuries to let contaminants degrade and be flushed out of the environment to an acceptable extent, before it can be repopulated in earnest. Reclamation, even robotically, seems futile because there is no isolation on a planet where air and water travel everywhere unrestricted.

In the meantime, materials can be developed that degrade properly and thoroughly, leaving natural residues safe for ingestion.

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