Arctic waters littered by trillions of plastic debris swept in by currents

Every year, about eight million tonnes of plastic gets into the ocean, and scientists estimate that there may be as much as 110 million tonnes of plastic trash in the ocean.

By Zee Media Bureau | Updated: May 02, 2017, 23:23 PM IST
Arctic waters littered by trillions of plastic debris swept in by currents
(Image for representational purposes only)

New Delhi: Plastic waste is a menace that is the result of industrialization and to an extent, human activities, without realizing that it ends up affecting our health as well.

Plastic is considered inexpensive and durable, which is why it is most commonly used for packaging.

However, due to its slow degradation process, plastics can severely affect living organisms, especially marine life, through entanglement, direct ingestion of plastic waste, or through exposure to chemicals within plastics that cause interruptions in biological functions.

For humans, plastics can cause disruption of the thyroid hormone axis or hormone levels.

Because of this, environmentalists across the world have been promoting and encouraging everyone to do away with plastic use.

The oceans of the world, unfortunately, are littered with loads of plastic bits and pieces in the form of tiny particles and now, this junk is floating away into the Arctic.

A recent study published in the journal Science Advances spoke about a major ocean current that is carrying bits of plastic, mainly from the North Atlantic, to the Greenland and Barents seas, and leaving them there — in surface waters, in sea ice and possibly on the ocean floor.

The study, carried out by researchers from the University of Cádiz in Spain and several other institutions, showed how this is a result of a steadily shrinking Arctic sea ice cover due to climate change, which has caused plastic pollution to spread significantly around the world since 1980 and this could spread more widely in the Arctic in decades to come.

According to a report in the Deccan Herald, Andrés Cózar Cabañas, the study’s lead author and a professor of biology at the University of Cádiz, said he was surprised by the results, and worried about possible outcomes. “We don’t fully understand the consequences the plastic is having or will have on our oceans,” he said. “What we do know is that the consequences will be felt at greater scale in an ecosystem like this because it is unlike any other on Earth.”

Every year, about eight million tonnes of plastic gets into the ocean, and scientists estimate that there may be as much as 110 million tonnes of plastic trash in the ocean.

The report further mentioned another model of ocean currents by one of the study’s authors, that predicted that plastic garbage could also accumulate in the Arctic Ocean, specifically in the Barents Sea, located off the northern coasts of Russia and Norway, which this study demonstrates. The surface water plastic in the Arctic Ocean currently accounts for only about three percent of the total, but the authors suggest the quantity will grow and that the seafloor there could be a big sink for plastic.

The scientists sampled floating plastic debris from 42 sites in the Arctic Ocean aboard Tara, a research vessel that completed a trip around the North Pole from June to October 2013, with data from two additional sites from a previous trip. They scooped up plastic debris and determined the concentration of particles by dividing the dry weight of the plastic collected, excluding microfibres, by the area surveyed.

Almost all of the plastic, measured by weight, was in fragments, mostly ranging from 0.5 millimetres to 12.6 millimetres. The rest of the plastic appeared in the form of fishing line, film or pellets. This mix of plastic types is roughly consistent with the kinds of plastic that collect in the subtropical gyres, though those parts of the ocean amass a higher concentration of fishing line, the Deccan Herald reported.