Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic April 20, 2017 - 7:00 am

Atlantic currents moving plastic junk into the Arctic, research says

"Middle range" estimate is 300 billion plastic items

This collage of Arctic Ocean plastic, assembled by Andres Cozar, the lead author of a new study
This collage of Arctic Ocean plastic, assembled by Andres Cozar, the lead author of a new study "The Arctic Ocean as a dead end for floating plastics in the North Atlantic branch of the Thermohaline Circulation," and his colleagues, shows just some of the estimated billions of pieces of plastic in ice-free Arctic waters.

Parts of the Arctic Ocean have become an “important sink of plastic debris,” mainly coming north from the southern latitudes—with 300 billion or more plastic items carried in ice-free Arctic waters.

That’s according to new research published April 19 in the online Science Advances journal, which states the polar ice cap has become “a dead end for the surface transport of floating debris.”

Some of that debris then sinks to the seafloor, the researchers suggest.

Data from 42 sites showed that high concentrations of plastic debris extend up to ice-free Arctic waters around Greenland and north of Norway, pushed there by strong North Atlantic currents.

A lot of this plastic was in the form of small pieces and fishing line. The researchers didn’t find much plastic film, which breaks down quickly, showing that the plastic debris had been in the water for a long time—that is, travelling north from southern points.

Over all, their trawling found surface ice-free waters in the Arctic were slightly polluted with plastic debris, with 37 per cent of their surface net tows being free of plastic.

But this still means the total load of floating plastic for the ice-free waters of the Arctic Ocean ranges between 100 to 1,200 tons (about 200,000 to 2,400,000 pounds,) with 400 tons, or about 800,000 pounds, made up of an estimated 300 billion plastic items “as a midrange estimate.”

And the international team of authors involved in the research said it’s likely that Arctic plastic loads will continue to increase even if less plastic is put into the oceans.

That’s because this accumulation in the Arctic partly feeds from plastic adrift at lower latitudes.

The researchers said the possibility of plastic pollution affecting the Arctic food web merits more study because, “the growing level of human activity in an increasingly warm and ice-free Arctic suggests that high loads of marine plastic pollution may become prevalent in the Arctic.”

While their research focussed on ice-free waters, ice cores collected across the Arctic already point to “a considerable abundance of microplastics into the sea ice,” they said.

Another research paper, released earlier this year, also found more garbage sits on the Arctic seabed than ever before, linking its presence to areas that have seen a boom in vessel traffic as Arctic ice recedes.

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(8) Comments:

#1. Posted by Lesley Spence on April 20, 2017

More people should give up the use of all plastic. I stopped buying and using plastic two years ago. It wasn’t easy but I did it. I removed everything made of plastic from my home and I buy nothing made of plastic. Let’s get a challenge going. It’s all worth it for the environment.

#2. Posted by Removing Plastic on April 20, 2017

It’s a good cause to stop using plastic, but removing plastic from your home is not going to help. By removing plastic items from your home and buying new items your contributing to the problem. New items have a carbon cost either through the manufacturing process or through transportation.

Its the same problem as selling your gasoline powered car while it still works to buy a hybrid or electric vehicle. Consumerism and buying things we don’t need is the biggest challenge the environment faces.

#3. Posted by BWR on April 20, 2017

Plastic is not the enemy, the enemy is the population who litter, and do not recycle their plastic. Lazy and selfish is what I call them. And the saddest part is they are teaching their children to do the same. More education of recycling needs to start in kindergarten and continue through grade 12.

#4. Posted by The plasticine era on April 21, 2017

#3 Your comment is reminiscent of the guns don’t kill people, people kill people crowd. There is no recycling in Nunavut so your point is largely moot.

Either way, more resources and legislation need to be dedicated to the promotion of biodegradable plastics. Though lesser reliance on plastics is another good angle, it’s unlikely to be enough.

#5. Posted by muff diver on April 21, 2017

When entering the pristine north, Vessels should be forced to collect and return twice as much garbage as they bring in on their trip. That garbage and waste should then be brought back to the south and properly disposed of at a land fill, if it is recycleable materials then it should recycled. Keep the North clean, period.

#6. Posted by BWR on April 21, 2017

#4. The plastic is not all from Nunavut.  But it would help if they put their waste and garage in the dumps provided, instead of on the land and there Is recycling in Iqaliut . Yes, it’s true guns don’t kill people, the person aiming it kills people.

#7. Posted by Environmentalists foot the bill on April 21, 2017

If Greenpeace and other environmentalists care so much about the environment they should clean up all that garbage floating and those on the seabed. They have enough money to make a difference in this fiasco and garner some brownie points.

#8. Posted by Pete on April 22, 2017

#1: forgive me, but I don’t believe you.

Were you using a computer or cell ‘phone to post that message? Okay, maybe you were at work and not at home. I did a quick survey of my own home and, quite frankly, if I removed everything made of (or containing) plastic I would hardly have a blessed thing in my house!

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