Not even them The Arctic Ocean is immune to the relentless increase in microplastic pollution. In a new study analyzing sediment core samples, researchers quantified how many of the particles had been deposited since the early 1930s. As scientists have shown elsewhere, the team found that microplastic pollution in the Arctic is growing exponentially, and in step with the growth in plastic production – now reaching up to a trillion pounds a year given the global amount of plastic waste expected to triple until 2060.
These researchers analyzed the seawater and sediments in the western part of the Arctic Ocean, which makes up 13 percent of its total area. Yet in that region alone, they calculated that 210,000 tons of microplastics, or 463 million pounds, have accumulated in the layers of water, sea ice and sediment since the 1930s. in their study published last week in the diary scientific advancesthey cataloged 19 types of synthetic polymers in three forms: fragments, fibers and layers. This reflects a dizzying array of microplastic sources, including fragments from broken bottles and bags, and microfibers from synthetic clothing.
Overall, the team found that microplastic levels in Arctic Ocean sediments doubled every 23 years. This mirrors a previous study of marine sediments off the coast of southern California that found concentrations to double every 15 years. Other researchers have noted an exponential increase in contamination Urban lake sediments.
The problem is likely to get worse, lead author Seung-Kyu Kim, a marine scientist at Incheon National University, told WIRED via email. “The entry of microplastics into the Arctic has increased exponentially over the past few decades, at a compound annual rate of increase of 3 percent,” writes Kim. “The mass production of plastic, which is increasing at an annual rate of 8.4 percent – coupled with inefficient waste management systems – is projected to lead to a further increase in the amount of plastic entering the oceans over the next few decades, and thus the amount of plastic entering the Arctic will increase proportionally.”
The atmosphere is also increasingly polluted with microplastics. According to one calculation, the equivalent of hundreds of millions of decomposed plastic bottles could fall on the United States alone. A learn A study of a peat patch in the Pyrenees found that less than five atmospheric microplastic particles per square meter of land were being deposited daily in the 1960s. It’s more like 180 now.
This new Arctic paper “helps show that any increase in production goes hand in hand with the environment,” says Steve Allen, a microplastics researcher at the Ocean Frontiers Institute who conducted the peatland study. “And as more research on human exposure comes to light, I believe the increase will show up in the human body as well.”
Microplastics move easily between different environments. A previous study found 14,000 microplastics per liter of Arctic snow blown from European cities. Microplastics also enter the Arctic via the sea: When you wash your clothes, hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of synthetic fibers come loose and end up in a wastewater treatment plant and eventually in the sea. Currents then transport microplastics to the Arctic, where they swirl around and eventually settle in the sediment. Allen and other scientists reported in May that a single recycling plant could emit 3 million pounds of microplastics a year — and those were numbers for a brand-new facility filtering its runoff.