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21 April 2017

Arctic Waters are filling up with Plastic Waste

Img: MichaelisScientists 
Given that the Arctic is home to relatively few human populations, you would think that the region would escape to worst of the knock-on effects of our wasteful modern lives. Unfortunately, the planet is a single entity, and our negative actions are now having a deteriorating effect on what was once among the Earth’s most pristine environments. I’m not talking about climate change here; that issue is widely known. The problem to which I now refer is the appalling influx of plastic waste that litters the Northern seas and oceans around Greenland, Scandinavia, and the icy expanse of the North Pole itself.

The revelation comes from a study published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday 19th April, which states that “the possibility of plastic accumulation at polar latitudes has been overlooked because of the lack of nearby pollution sources.” However due to the way in which ocean currents mix and meander, the source doesn’t actually need to be all that nearby.

The study from which the alarming news arose focused on analysing Arctic Ocean samples in order to ascertain the concentration of plastic waste that had worked its way into the Northern waters. Whilst in general plastics were found to be scarce or altogether absent in much of the Arctic waters, scientists were alarmed by the high concentrations of plastic found in the northernmost and easternmost areas of the Greenland and Barents seas, east of Greenland and North of Scandinavia.

The report states that “the fragmentation and typology of the plastic suggested an abundant presence of aged debris that originated from distant sources”, which seems to confirm the hypothesis that the plastic made its way to the area by ‘piggy-backing’ on ocean currents. Specifically the current in question is the poleward branch of the Thermohaline Circulation, more commonly known as “the global ocean conveyor belt”. This would also explain why similar concentrations are found in regions near the equator.

The concentrated levels of plastics driven into the area by the Thermohaline Circulation, which reach as high as hundreds of thousands of pieces per square kilometre in the worst affected regions, are sure to have a hugely detrimental effect on local ecosystems as small plastic pieces are ingested and make their way into the food chain.

The study found that Arctic floating plastic accounts for less than three percent of the global total, but warned it will continue to accumulate in the coming years, and as such action must be taken now, before it’s too late. 

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.