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Scientists Have Discovered Microplastics In Arctic Ice

caitlyn.clancey 17 Aug 2019

In a particularly disturbing find, scientists have discovered microplastics contaminating Arctic ice, confirming that human pollution is starting reach even the most remote parts of the world, CBC News reported.

These tiny traces of plastic have also been found in other frigid, remote parts of the Northern Hemisphere where they have absolutely no business being.

Microplastics are plastic debris less than five millimeters in length, or about the size of a sesame seed.

National Ocean Service

According to the National Ocean Service, these little pieces of plastic are usually part of bigger plastics that have broken off in the water and are seriously harmful both to oceans and aquatic life.

While they've been a known issue in our waters for around the last 50 years or so, this is the first time they have been discovered somewhere as remote as the Arctic.

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Scientists made the troubling discovery while taking samples from ice floes in the Northwest Passage.

Flickr | Lukasz Lukomski

"We had spent weeks looking out at what looks so much like pristine white sea ice floating out on the ocean," Jacob Strock, a graduate student researcher at the University of Rhode Island, who conducted an initial onboard analysis of the cores, told CBC News.

He continued, "When we look at it up close and we see that it's all very, very visibly contaminated when you look at it with the right tools — it felt a little bit like a punch in the gut."

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Eighteen ice core samples taken from the floes revealed a startling amount of microplastics.

Science Advances

The samples contained up to 14,400 tiny plastic particles per liter.

The debris was found to be made up of multi-colored fibers of plastics, like rubber and varnishes. Their findings were published in the academic journal Science Advances and emphasize just how truly serious this discovery is.

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So how exactly did these microplastics end up in such a remote area as the Arctic?

Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Microplastics_in_sediment_from_the_Rhine.jpg

After all, these areas aren't exactly known for having dense human populations, so it's certainly confusing how so much plastic found its way over there.

Researchers posit that the debris found its way into both the Arctic and Alpine snow through the air. That is to say, the plastics became airborne and were swept up into the earth's atmosphere. After that, they could be transported anywhere across the globe.

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The Northern Passage has long been used to study man-made climate change effects.

Unsplash | Willian Justen de Vasconcellos

The Arctic is tasked with cooling the entire planet, but its job is being compromised as more ice continues to rapidly melt in the region.

Scientists say this discovery proves microplastics are becoming airborne, which means people can be drinking them as well as breathing them in, posing serious health risks.

According to the study, "The high MP concentrations detected in snow samples from continental Europe to the Arctic indicate significant air pollution and stress the urgent need for research on human and animal health effects focusing on airborne MPs."

h/t: CBC News, Science Advances

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