Flood of Plastic in Arctic

The state of Earth's polar ice regions is raising alarm bells as Arctic sea ice reaches its sixth-lowest annual minimum extent, and Antarctic sea ice experiences a record-low growth. According to findings by NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), these developments hold profound implications for our planet's ecosystems and climate.

Right from water to the seafloor, remote beaches to rivers and even in ice and snow, high concentrations of plastic can be seen in all spheres of the Arctic, according to scientists. The flood of plastic is worsening the situation in the polar region, said the international review study by the Alfred Wegener Institute.

The Arctic was assumed to be largely untouched. However, this concept is changing with the situation in the polar region worsening. The AWI experts said that this perception no longer reflects the reality. The northernmost ecosystems, which are already hard hit by climate change, have now been exacerbated by plastic pollution.


The ocean currents from the Atlantic and the North Sea, and from the North Pacific over the Bering Strait, bring plastics to Arctic. Tiny micro plastic particles are also carried northward by wind. The Arctic Ocean, which only makes up only one percent of the total volume of the world’s oceans, receives more than ten percent of the global water discharge from rivers. All these waters carry plastics. When seawater off the coast of Siberia freezes in the autumn, suspended micro plastic becomes trapped in the ice. The Transpolar Drift transports the ice floes to Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard, where it melts in the summer, releasing its plastic cargo. Municipal waste and wastewater from Arctic communities and plastic debris from ships, especially fishing vessels, are most important local sources of pollution.

The study released in the journal Nature Reviews Earth & Environment noted that nine to 23 million metric tons of plastic litter per year end up in the waters of the world. As plastic is very stable, it accumulates in the oceans. Then it gradually breaks down into ever-smaller pieces – from macro-to micro- and nanoplastic. The flood of debris is bound to get worse as the global plastic production is expected to double by 2045.


The Alfred Wegener Institute notes that their study showed that the levels of plastic pollution in the Arctic match those of other regions around the world. However, they stated that the consequences might be even more serious. They said that the Arctic region was warming three times faster than the rest of the world as climate change progresses. The authors said that the resolution for a global plastic treaty, passed at the UN Environment Assembly this February, was an important step.

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