The world’s oceans are littered with vast amounts of plastic…bottles, bags , toys, and more.Now this junk is making it’s way to the Arctic.
A recent study by researchers from Spain show a major Ocean current is carrying the plastic, from the North Atlantic, to the Greenland and Barents Seas and leaving the plastic in the surface waters, in the sea ice, and possibly on the ocean floor.
We are seeing more human activity in this part of the world due to the shrinking ice pack navigation becomes easier. Plastic pollution could spread more widely in the years to come. The danger is that there are consequences we understand and know, but also there will most likely be hidden issues that we are not aware of at this point.
Every year 8 million tons of plastic enters our waters, joining the already millions upon millions of tons already there. We do understand that plastic pollution has made its way into the food chain. Plastic in the oceans is thought to accumulate in big patches called “gyres”. Scientists now believe these gyres may account for only 1% of the total of plastic in the waters.
Another model of ocean currents predicts that plastic garbage could also accumulate in the Arctic Ocean, specifically the Barents Sea (located off the coast of Norway and Russia). This part of the ocean is important for the thermohaline circulation, a deep water global current dictated by differences in temperature and salinity. As the warmer water drives up into these areas it brings the plastic with it.
The scientists in the study sampled floating plastic debris from 42 sites in the Arctic Ocean in 2013. the researchers did not find many large pieces of plastic nor did they find much in the way of plastic film. The film is thought to have already broken down. Most pieces were 0.5 mls to 12.6 mls.
The plastic found is not considered to be from local populations nor from ship traffic since there is little of each in the area.
The lesson is that the plastic is coming in from the North Atlantic, and will require international agreements to control. The more we know of what happens in the Arctic, the better chance we have of solving the problem.