We all know that plastic is a threat to the environment, but what do we know about microplastics? Scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), Germany, took samples of ice from three different expeditions to the Arctic in 2014 and 2015.
Studying the ice and its components led to a shocking discovery:
There is a huge amount of microplastics in the Arctic ice!
After taking samples from five different regions, they analyzed the pieces of ice with a device called Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer. This device shines an infrared light on the ice and measures the radiation bounced back. This way, it will give the scientists enough information on the concentration and size of the plastics and also on what types of plastic is inside the ice.
The samples of ice contained about 12,000 particles per liter of ice, which is 2-3 times higher than the past measurements. Two-thirds of the particles were smaller than 50 micrometers.
Dr. Ilka Peeken, a biologist at AWI and first author of the study explains her concerns:
“During our work, we realized that more than half of the microplastic particles trapped in the ice were less than a twentieth of a millimeter wide, which means they could easily be ingested by Arctic microorganisms like ciliates, but also by copepods. No one can say for certain how harmful these tiny plastic particles are for marine life, or ultimately also for human beings.”
17 Types of Microplastics: Paint, Nylon, Polyester, and More
Scientists then found out the types of particles inside the ice: there were 17 types, and most of the common ones were polyethylene and polypropylene, polyester, nylon, paints and cellulose acetate. All these six types were half of the amount of microplastics inside the ice.
The team of researchers has also an idea on the source of these microplastics. For example, the polyethylene could come from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, while the paint and nylon could come from ships and nets, as a result of overfishing and shipping in the Arctic.
For more information, you can find the research in the journal Nature Communications.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.