It’s difficult to imagine some of the most remote places on Earth being polluted. However, after much of the planet has relied on the convenience of single-use plastic packaging for decades, we’re beginning to understand the consequences. Microplastics are polluting rivers, oceans, our tap water, and now they’re even polluting the Arctic.
But how did microplastics end up in one of the most remote corners of the earth?
A new study suggests microplastics are being transported through the air and falling as snow in the Arctic. Scientists recently discovered plastic fragments and fibers on ice floes (sheets of floating ice) in the Fram Strait—a passage between Greenland and Svalbard, a group of unpopulated Norwegian islands.
Researchers took samples from several ice floes; the average sample had 1,800 microplastic particles. One area in the middle of the Fram Strait had an extremely high concentration of microplastics, with 14,000 particles in every 34 ounces. Researchers compared these numbers to samples taken from snow near urban sites in Germany and the Alps. There, microplastics had an average of 24,600 particles per 34 ounces. So while fewer microplastics were found in the ice floes, scientists concluded that the concentrations found were still substantial for a secluded location, such as the Arctic.
“The high MP (microplastic) concentrations detected in snow samples from continental Europe to the Arctic indicate significant air pollution and stress the urgent need for research on human and animal health effects focusing on airborne MPs,” the study said.
Arctic microplastics have also been discovered in deep-sea sediments, surface ice, and surface waters. While this study’s findings are shocking, it’s not new news. Microplastics have been popping up everywhere and in everything for years.
"It's not a middle-of-the-ocean problem. It's a water body problem. It's a terrestrial problem, it's an air problem, it's a tropical problem, it's an Arctic problem,” said Jennifer Provencher, head of the wildlife health unit for the Canadian Wildlife Service who studies the impacts plastics have in the Arctic.
Plastic pollution is a problem everyone faces. First, we found it in our food and water, and now, in the air. Although they don’t have the answers just yet, researchers have started investigating the health impacts this pervasive pollutant could ultimately have on human health.