Experts at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), have recently found a higher concentration of microplastic in arctic sea ice than ever before. However, the majority of particles were microscopically small.
“During our work, we realised that more than half of the microplastic particles trapped in the ice were less than a twentieth of a millimetre wide. No one can say for certain how harmful these tiny plastic particles are for marine life, or ultimately also for human beings”, says AWI biologist Dr Ilka Peeken.
The ice samples from five regions throughout the Arctic Ocean contained up to 12,000 microplastic particles per litre of sea ice. A considerable amount of microplastic is released directly into the ocean by the gradual deterioration of larger pieces of plastic. But microplastic can also be created on land – e.g. by laundering synthetic textiles or abrasion of car tyres, which initially floats through the air as dust, and is then blown to the ocean by the wind, or finds its way there through sewer networks.
The researchers found a total of 17 different types of plastic in the sea ice, including packaging materials like polyethylene and polypropylene, but also paints, nylon, polyester, and cellulose acetate. The latter is primarily used in the manufacture of cigarette filters. Taken together, these six materials accounted for roughly half of all the microplastic particles detected.
The different types of plastic showed a unique footprint in the ice allowing the researchers to trace them back to possible sources. This involves the massive garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean, while in turn, the high percentage of paint and nylon particles pointed to the intensified shipping and fishing activities in some parts of the Arctic Ocean.
Read the whole press release here.