The Arctic's plastic pollution is very similar to the most populated areas.

The Arctic is littered with plastic.

The Arctic's plastic pollution is very similar to the most populated areas.

The Arctic is littered with plastic. Plastic litters the Arctic from the beaches to the ocean floor, according to researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), in the journal Nature Reviews Earth.

Researchers have reviewed all scientific literature to find evidence that the Arctic is a relatively sparsely populated area. "Our study showed that plastic pollution levels in the Arctic is similar to other parts of the globe. Bergmann says that this is in line with model simulations which predict an Arctic accumulation zone.

Researchers recall that plastic production has been increasing worldwide since the 1950s, and reached 368 million tonnes per year in 2019. They estimate that between 19 and 23 millions tons of plastic waste, which is poorly managed, end up in rivers or seas every year. This amounts to "two containers per hour." Plastic is durable and accumulates in oceans. However, it is not known where 99 percent of microplastics or nanoplastics end-up, which are pieces less than 5 and 100 millimeters respectively. One millionth of one millimeter is a nanometer.

Bergmann and his colleagues discovered that plastic can be found in the Arctic food chain. This includes many endemic species that only exist in this region. In such a remote area, where does plastic come from?

Researchers take samples of snow from the Arctic, which is already contaminated by microplastics. Kajetan Leaves / Alfred Wegener Institute

One, waste, in the form of garbage or sewage, comes from arctic communities and oil and gas drilling. The other is aquaculture and maritime traffic (merchandise and fishing, tourism). Researchers write that abandoned, lost or discarded fishing equipment is a major source for plastic debris, particularly in the Greenland and Norwegian Seas, Kara Seas, and subarctic regions the North Atlantic and North Pacific. authors. Plastic waste from fishing accounts for between 27% to 100% of garbage on the beaches at Svalbard archipelago, which lies between Norway and Greenland.

Plastic can also reach the area from faraway areas via wind and sea currents. They highlight that the Arctic is less than 1% of the world's ocean volume but receives more than 10% global river inputs. For example, in autumn when Siberian waters freeze, microplastics get trapped in the ice. Transpolar drift then transports the icebergs across the Strait to the Fram Strait between Greenland, Svalbard. There, they melt and release their load of plastic.

Bergmann says that there have been very few studies about the effects plastic has on Arctic marine organisms. However, there is evidence that plastics can cause similar effects to those found in more studied regions. In the Arctic, for example, many animals, including polar bears and seals, as well as reindeer, reindeer, and seabirds, become entangled in plastics and eventually die. Unintentionally ingested microplastics may also cause decreased growth and reproduction, physiological stress, inflammation, and tissue damage in the tissues and organs of marine animals in the Arctic. It can even get into the bloodstream of humans.