Policy Update

First in Science: Arctic Ice Stores and Transports Microplastics

Region

Coastal

NCEL Point of Contact

Mara Herman
Environmental Health Manager

Contact
New Study Finds Arctic Ice To Be Important Component in the Storage and Movement of Microplastics

Each year 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans and accounts for 73% of global marine debris. This issue continues to grow in prominence and severity to the point that Earth Day 2018 was dedicated to ending plastic pollution.

The Study: Researchers studied Arctic ice over the span of two years and identified Arctic ice as a major sink for microplastics. Five ice cores were sampled from various regions of the Arctic including land-locked and drifting ice.

Results & Significance: Large amounts of microplastics, up to 12,000 pieces per liter of ice, were found in the sampled ice cores. Much of the plastic had traveled to the Arctic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a massive area of garbage found in the central Pacific Ocean. The other plastic was from paints and nylon that had come from ships and fishing gear. Plastic pollution has been linked to death in birds and whales and can also absorb toxins that are harmful to humans when ingested up the food chain. However, as the larger effects of plastic ingestion in animals and humans is still unknown, more research into the health impacts of plastics is needed. Scientists have also raised the concern of as the Arctic melts, this plastic will be released back into the oceans.

Resources