A British-led expedition to the Arctic has made an upsetting discovery in the middle of the Arctic Ocean – polystyrene.
The researchers found plastic chunks and polystyrene on the Arctic sea ice floes where previously they hadn’t managed to even access due to sea ice.
This is the farthest north of any ocean that plastic waste has been discovered, just 1,000 miles from the North Pole. It seems there really is no getting away from plastic garbage in the oceans.
The explorers were part of Pen Hadow’s Arctic Mission – attempt to sail to the North Pole, collecting important facts along the way. Arctic explorer Hadow is the only man to have ever trekked solo from Canada to the Terrestrial North Pole without resupply.
The crew was not expecting to come across polystyrene so far from land, but then they weren’t expecting to have the ability to access an area that is generally covered by ice throughout the year.
“For the 25 years I have been exploring the Arctic I’ve never seen so big and extremely visible items of garbage,” said Pen Hadow, the Guardian reports. “The chunks of polystyrene were simply sitting on top of the ice.”
One of the huge pieces they found was on an ice floe in the middle of international waters of the Central Arctic Ocean (CAO) –
farther than any person has ever got previously without icebreakers.
“Finding pieces of garbage like this is an alarming sign that melting ice may be permitting high levels of pollution to float into these areas,” said Tim Gordon, a marine biologist of University of Exeter and one of the researchers. “This can be potentially very threatening for the Arctic’s wildlife,” he added.
Numerous rivers which gather and distribute plastic pollution flow into the Arctic ocean. Before today, it normally got trapped in the ice. It’s not so nice, but at least it isn’t moving anywhere. Now the ocean ice is melting down, the current danger is that the pollution, mostly very small pieces like microplastics, will be swept farther out to sea.
The discovery of this plastic garbage so far north in the expedition has confirmed this peril. With projections demonstrating that the Arctic will be completely free of sea ice in summer by 2040, with not so difficult access opening up human exploration and exploitation, the researchers are concerned about the before untouched area for both fauna and flora.
“The wildlife in the Arctic Ocean used to be protected by a layer of sea ice throughout the year,” Gordon explained. “Since is melting away, this environment is going to be exposed to commercial fishing, transportation, and industry for the first time in history. All of us need to seriously consider how best to safeguard the Arctic’s animals from these new threats.”