Arctic Ocean now has plastic pollution comparable to densely populated regions

An international review study of Arctic waters has found large quantities of microplastics across the region.

Researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) have conducted a ground-breaking investigation into the spread of plastic pollution to the world’s High North, with alarming results. 

mountain near clear river

Between 19 and 23 million metric tonnes of plastic enter the world’s waters each year, and it has long been understood that even remote areas are falling victim to this pollution, with materials carried on tides, particles present in the air, and waste and spillages from shipping routes helping spread the problem. Almost all marine organisms in every ocean have come into contact with plastic debris and microplastics, with experts now clear the Arctic is no different.

‘The Arctic is still assumed to be a largely untouched wilderness,’ said AWI expert Dr Melanie Bergmann. ‘In our review, which we jointly conducted with colleagues from Norway, Canada and the Netherlands, we show that this perception no longer reflects the reality. Our northernmost ecosystems are already particularly hard hit by climate change. This is now exacerbated by plastic pollution. And our own research has shown that the pollution continues to worsen.

Rivers, the seabed, beaches, and water column were all found to have similar levels of plastic pollution compared to densely populated regions of the world. Local and distant sources are believed to be responsible, with the Atlantic, North Sea, and North Pacific essentially acting as massive plastic-filled tributaries. 

Other major contributing factors include microplastic particles being carried northwards in the air, and concerns have also been raised about the impact of rivers. The Arctic itself is only home to 1% of the planet’s fresh water streams, but it receives around 10% of global water discharge from rivers in nearby areas such as Siberia. 

Spacehouse Ltd, publisher of both Environment Journal and Air Quality News, is sponsoring an expedition to the Arctic with the aim of collecting data on black carbon and plastic pollution. Watch exclusive footage from the B.I.G. North Pole Expedition here

Image credit: Daiwei Lu



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