An article published on April 19, 2017 in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances suggests that floating plastic debris in the oceans accumulates not only in the subtropical ocean gyres as has been extensively studied, but also in cold waters at polar latitudes – a location which has received much less attention so far.
Andrés Cózar from the University of Cadiz, Spain, together with a team of international researchers, performed extensive sampling in the Arctic ocean during the Tara Oceans circumpolar expedition in 2013. High concentrations of plastic debris were found in the northernmost and easternmost areas of the Greenland and Barents seas, and the typology of these plastic fragments suggested their origin at distant sources. Based on their field data supported by surface circulation models, the researchers concluded that floating plastic debris is being transferred from the North Atlantic within the Thermohaline Circulation. In this model, the Greenland and Barents seas represent the final destination for the accumulation of the plastic fragments, which are hypothesized to then sink to the seafloor in this area of the Arctic.
Their research demonstrated that “high concentrations of plastic debris extend up to remote Arctic waters, emphasizing the global scale of marine plastic pollution and the role that global oceanic circulation patterns play in the redistribution of this persistent pollution,” the authors summarize. An anticipated increase in human activity in the northern regions, facilitated by warmer climate and melting sea ice, may further add to the loads of marine plastic pollution in the Arctic. Potential ecological effects of exposure to plastic debris in the unique Arctic ecosystem are “of special concern” and require further study, the authors conclude.
Tatiana Schlossberg (April 19, 2017). “Trillions of plastic bits, swept up by current, are littering Arctic waters.” The New York Times
Lorraine Chow (April 20, 2017). “Our plastic habit now pollutes the arctic ocean.” EcoWatch
Cózar, A., et al. (2017). “The Arctic Ocean as a dead end for floating plastics in the North Atlantic branch of the Thermohaline Circulation.” Science Advances 3(4):e1600582.