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Plastic Trash Has Floated All the Way up to the Arctic

posted: 10/26/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
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Floating plastic litter has invaded the waters of the Arctic Circle, according to new research published in the journal Polar Biology. During one of the area's first litter surveys, researchers spotted 31 pieces of litter over a distance of 3,500 miles.

Although such a low number may not sound like cause for alarm, survey leader Melanie Bergmann notes that the figure is likely a low estimate: her team was only able to scout for litter from the bridge of their research vessel and from helicopters, leaving smaller pieces of trash to potentially slip past unnoticed.

Group of plastic bottles in water
Pierre Sabatelli/iStock

Furthermore, the survey did not account for microplastics floating in the water, which can only be detected with small nets.

Bergmann posited that retreating Arctic ice was inviting human activity to push progressively northward.

"More and more cruise liners and fish trawlers are operating further north, following the cod. Most likely, litter from the ships intentionally or accidentally ends up in the waters of the Arctic. We expect this trend to continue," she said in a news release.

Related: Meet Ooho!, the Edible, Plastic-Free Water Bottle

In a previous study, Bergmann's team focused on the garbage littering the Arctic seafloor. She said that, in the past decade, the amount of litter on the Arctic seafloor has doubled, making it the "ultimate sink for marine litter." There could be ten times as much litter on the sea floor than at the surface, she added.

Biologists from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research and Belgium's Laboratory for Polar Ecology contributed to the research.

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