Microplastics in Arctic polar waters: the first reported values of particles in surface and sub-surface samples

Plastic, as a form of marine litter, is found in varying quantities and sizes around the globe from surface waters to deep-sea sediments. Identifying patterns of microplastic distribution will benefit an understanding of the scale of their potential effect on the environment and organisms. As sea ice extent is reducing in the Arctic, heightened shipping and fishing activity may increase marine pollution in the area. Microplastics may enter the region following ocean transport and local input, although baseline contamination measurements are still required. Here we present the first study of microplastics in Arctic waters, south and southwest of Svalbard, Norway. Microplastics were found in surface (top 16 cm) and sub-surface (6 m depth) samples using two independent techniques. Origins and pathways bringing microplastic to the Arctic remain unclear. Particle composition (95% fibres) suggests they may either result from the breakdown of larger items (transported over large distances by prevailing currents, or derived from local vessel activity), or input in sewage and wastewater from coastal areas. Concurrent observations of high zooplankton abundance suggest a high probability for marine biota to encounter microplastics and a potential for trophic interactions. Further research is required to understand the effects of microplastic-biota interaction within this productive environment.

 

Amy L. Lusher, Valentina Tirelli, Ian O’Connor, Rick Officer, Scientific Reports 5, 14947, October 2015

 

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