Microplastics Found in Arctic Circle a “Punch in the Gut” For Researchers

A team of scientists have found evidence of humanity's poor environmental management reaching some of the world’s most isolated, pristine environments.

A team of scientific researchers in the Arctic Circle have discovered microplastics lurking in sheet ice lifted from one of the most geographically remote places on earth: the Lancaster Sound.

During their 18-day ice breaking expedition through the Northwest Passage that links the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the team discovered that human influence over the world’s ecosystem is stretching even further than they could have hypothesised.

According to CBC, “the team drew 18 ice cores of up to two meters in length from four locations, and saw visible plastic beads and filaments of various shapes and sizes. The scientists said the findings reinforce the observation that micro plastic pollution appears to concentrate in ice relative to seawater.”

Jacob Strock, a graduate student researcher at the University of Rhode Island told Reuters that the team’s discovery as disheartening, and shocking. “We had spent weeks looking out at what looks so much like pristine white sea ice floating out on the ocean,” he said.

“When we look at it up close and we see that it’s all very, very visibly contaminated when you look at it with the right tools- it felt a little bit like a punch in the gut.”

“The plastic just jumped out in both its abundance and its scale.” Brice Loose

People have been quick to point out that the discovery of microplastics in a remote environment like the arctic circle should be no surprise, considering plastic was found at the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean’s surface, the Mariana Trench.

Brice Loose, an oceanographer at the University of Rhode Island said that “the plastic just jumped out in both its abundance and its scale.”

Alessandro D’Angelo, one of Jacob Strock’s fellow researchers is warning that the discovery should not be dismissed or underestimated. “We have been able to sample ice cores from multi-year ice from first year ice here in the Canadian Arctic archipelago,” he said.

“I think this is the first time that we can show people the presence of microplastic in this area.”

The United Nations has released an estimate that 100-million tonnes of plastic have been dumped into the world’s oceans to-date. Considering this estimate, lead scientist in the group, Dr Melanie Bergmann said the team expected to find contamination, but not of this scale.

“I am here to show pure and clean snow and dogs and the Arctic nature and that’s what I hope to do for the rest of my life and if it continues this way I will not be able to… when I hear that my heart is crying and I feel really, really terrible,” she said.

“It’s not good news, but we must not give up,” Dr Bergmann continued. “We must start to fight against this. What can we do… it’s not surprising and it makes you really sad,” she said.

The team is planning on testing the samples to gather an understanding of the impact of microplastics entering the marine ecosystem.

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