For years we’ve dumped plastic into our oceans. Now we’re finding it in our fish, our salt, the rocks on our coast, the deepest parts of the ocean, even the North Pole.
But based on a new study, it seems things might somehow be worse than we thought.
American researchers were studying the Arctic recently, investigating ice floes to look for plastic pollution. They went to what’s probably the most remote place on Earth, hoping not to find any evidence of microplastics because there weren’t any humans around for hundreds of miles.
They were wrong.
The researchers were using helicopters to land on ice floes that were otherwise inaccessible. What they hoped to see then was pristine ice. Instead, what they found was worse than what they could have imagined. They came across so much microplastic that they could see the deposits in the ice with their naked eye.
“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 who conducted an initial analysis of the ice, told Reuters. “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.”
And this wasn’t just plastic caught on the surface. The team drilled down and extracted blocks of ice up to 6.5 feet in length. They found microplastic deposited all the way through it. The UN estimates that 100 million tons of plastic have been dumped in our oceans to date. And when all of that gathers in deep waters, it’s also transported all across the world by currents.
There’s worse news too. A separate team of researchers from Germany and Switzerland went to Fram Strait, which forms a gateway to the Arctic between Greenland and the Norwegian island of Svalbard. There they took samples of snow and, you guessed it, found microplastics present.
When plastic enters the environment, it’s broken by over time into microscopic particles. In the water, these get into fish and enter the food chain. But microplastics can apparently also be carried long distances by air. That’s how they ended up in the clouds over the Arctic, where they then fell alongside the snow.