Arctic waters are a plastic wasteland: study

Category: Science Written by Sean Lennox 114 0

Millions of plastic particles accumulate in the Arctic, transported by an ocean current that acts as a transmission belt, according to a study published in the journal Science Advances.

A team of scientists led by Professor Andres Cozar of the Spanish University of Cadiz found hundreds of thousands of plastic particles per square kilometer in the Barents and Greenland seas.

These arctic particles account for 3% of the five trillion pieces of plastic that invade the oceans of the globe.

To conduct their research, Andres Cozar and his team used 17,000 satellite buoys to trace the movement of floating plastic debris on the surface of the ocean.

They discovered that the ocean current known as thermohaline circulation acts as a means of transport.

Plastics come from as far as the east coast of North America and the northwest coast of Europe.

When they arrive in the Arctic, debris is stopped by the combination of ice and land, and they eventually sink.

Professor Rachel Obbard of the Thayer School of Engineering at the University of Dartmouth, New Hampshire, has already found plastics in Arctic ice in 2009.

She pointed out that, with global warming, the problem of debris accumulation would only get worse.

“It’s going to get worse as the Arctic Ocean becomes more water than ice,” she says.

Because of the currents, the Canadian Arctic has less plastic debris than other polar sectors. Nevertheless, migratory birds such as fulmars ingest plastic waste floating in the North Atlantic where they spend their winter.

Cozar wrote:

“The present data demonstrate that high concentrations of plastic debris extend up to remote Arctic waters, emphasizing the global scale of marine plastic pollution and the role that global oceanic circulation patterns play in the redistribution of these persistent pollutants.”


According to Mashable, Professor Cozar emphasizes that the problem must be addressed at the source, since once in the ocean, plastic can be found anywhere. He stressed the need to continue campaigns to ban cosmetic plastic beads and disposable plastic bags.

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