Arctic sea ice contains huge quantity of microplastics, reveals new analysis

Scientists have found an unprecedented number of microplastic frozen in Arctic sea ice, demonstrating the alarming extent to which they are pervading marine environments.

Analysis of ice cores from across the Arctic region found levels of the pollution were up to three times higher than previously thought.  Each litre of sea ice contained around 12,000 particles of plastic, which scientists are now concerned are being ingested by native animals.

Scientists collected Arctic ice samples while on board the German research icebreaker Polarstern, seen here above the Lomonosov Ridge in the central Arctic Ocean

Scientists collected Arctic ice samples while on board the German research icebreaker Polarstern, seen here above the Lomonosov Ridge in the central Arctic Ocean ( Alfred-Wegener-Institut/Rüdiger Stein )

Based on their analysis, the researchers were even able to trace the tiny fragments’ paths from their places of origin, from fishing vessels in Siberia to everyday detritus that had accumulated in the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

“We are seeing a clear human imprint in the Arctic,” the study’s first author, Dr Ilka Peeken, told The Independent. “It suggests that microplastics are now ubiquitous within the surface waters of the world’s ocean,” said Dr Jeremy Wilkinson, a sea ice physicist at the British Antarctic Survey who was not involved with the study.

“Nowhere is immune.”

AWI scientist Julia Gutermann analysing an Arctic sea ice core for microplastic particles in a lab at the AWI Helgoland (Tristan Vankann)

Dr Peeken and her team at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research collected ice core samples over the course of three expeditions on the research icebreaker Polarstern.  Their voyages covered five regions along the Transpolar Drift and Fram Strait, which channel sea ice from the Central Arctic to the North Atlantic.

Not only is polar sea ice acting as a store for ocean plastic that could potentially be released as global temperatures get warmer due to climate change, the movement of sea ice could be depositing microplastics in areas that were previously plastic-free.

The researchers analysed their samples using a device known as a Fourier-transform infrared spectrometer.  This enabled them to examine the ice cores layer by layer and in great detail, working out the origins of even the tiniest shards of plastic.

“What is interesting also is you have very localised sources – ship paint particles and cigarette butts and stuff like that,” said Dr Peeken. “We also see polyethylene, a very light polymer which is found in really high numbers particularly in the Central Arctic. We think that there is an incoming flow from the Pacific so that could show that is coming from that region.

“We see a large impact of plastic pollution coming from the urban areas – a lot is coming from the Atlantic and from the Pacific.”

In their paper, published in the journal Nature Communications, the scientists speculate that this polyethylene could originate from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Gyre. . . .

In ice cores collected in Siberia, the predominant forms of microplastic included paint particles from ships and nylon waste from fishing nets.

Over half the microplastic particles trapped in the ice were less than a twentieth of a millimetre wide, meaning they could easily be ingested by small Arctic creatures.

“While we don’t yet know the full extent of the impact of microplastics on the health of the marine environment or humans, the growing body of evidence suggests microplastic pollution is a contaminant of environmental and economic concern,” said Dr Pennie Lindeque, lead plastics scientist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who was not involved with the study.

“As microplastics can look like prey for marine animals and are small in size they may be eaten by a wide range of species, from zooplankton – small animals at the base of the food web –  to seabird and whales, potentially impacting marine ecosystems and the food chain.”

Other scientists welcomed the research as “a benchmark study” that demonstrated the extent to which plastics both big and small have covered the world.  However, given the scale of the global plastic crisis, they said its conclusions did not come as a surprise.

Professor Richard Thompson, an ocean plastic researcher at the University of Plymouth who first coined the use of the term microplastics, said this study builds on work he conducted to establish their concentration in Arctic ice.  “The study reinforces what is already clear to many marine scientists – that plastic debris is a highly persistent form of contamination that can accumulate in considerable concentrations even in remote locations far from the likely points of entry to the ocean. What is increasingly clear is the urgency with which we need to take steps to halt the flow of plastic debris to the ocean.

“A key priority in my view is interdisciplinary research focused on delivering appropriate evidence to inform industry and policy on the most appropriate solutions.”

By Josh Gabbatiss, Science Correspondent, Independent

April 14, 2018

https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/plastic-pollution-arctic-sea-ice-microplastics-ocean-environment-a8319951.html

Yet Another Dead Whale Is Grave Reminder Of Our Massive Plastic Problem

A sperm whale was found washed ashore dead after swallowing 64 pounds of plastic debris. The male sperm whale was found on the Murcian coast in southern Spain in late February, reminding us how critical plastic waste in the oceans has become.

After investigating, the El Valle Wildlife Rescue Center determined that the sperm whale was killed by gastric shock to its stomach and intestines after ingesting 64 pounds of plastic. The autopsy found plastic bags, nets, ropes, plastic sacks, and even a plastic jerrycan in the whale’s stomach and intestines.

Experts found the inner walls of the whale’s abdomen to be inflamed due to a bacterial or fungal infection. This is likely a result of the whale unable to expel the plastics from its system, resulting in peritonitis.

The male sperm whale, an endangered species protected in the US under the Endangered Species Conservation Act, weighed over 6 tonnes and measured 33 feet long. Sperm whales typically eat squid and live around the same lifespan as humans, averaging 70 years.

As a result of the whale’s death, the Murcia government launched a campaign against dumping plastic waste into the coastal town’s water. The coastal community is working to raise awareness of the ever-growing plastic problem in the oceans and the need for beach cleaning.

 It is becoming increasingly clear that plastic in our oceans is a core threat to marine life in the decades to come.  Approximately 5 trillion pieces of plastic are estimated to be floating around the world’s oceans based on a recent study. To make matters worse, marine experts believe the total weight of plastic in our oceans could outweigh fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.
With an increasing amount of plastic discarded in oceans, whale deaths due to ingestion of plastics are becoming far too common… To cope with this dilemma, many countries around the world are phasing out single-use plastic bags as typically seen in grocery stores. Below is a map of where countries are in their phasing out of low-density polyethylene plastic bags.
  • Green indicates plastic bags are banned
  • Yellow indicates a tax on some plastic bags
  • Orange indicates a voluntary tax agreement
  • Purple indicates a partial tax or ban at a regional level

  Countries that are phasing out single-use plastic bags (Wikipedia)

The European Union is pushing a transition to have all plastic recyclable or reusable by 2030 with many agencies around the world discussing phasing out non-biodegradable plastics completely.

READ FULL ARTICLE AT:

Yet Another Dead Whale Is Grave Reminder Of Our Massive Plastic Problem

Trevor Nance, Forbes, Science, April 9, 2018

https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2018/04/09/yet-another-dead-whale-is-grave-reminder-of-our-massive-plastic-problem/#baaeb156cd23