The Arctic is a final garbage dump for ocean plastic

Arctic expedition

HIDDEN HEAP  A recent expedition to the Arctic found that some areas of the seemingly pristine waters, particularly around Greenland and in the Barents Sea, are littered with copious amounts of plastic debris.

© Anna Deniaud/Tara Expeditions Foundation

The Arctic Ocean is a final resting place for plastic debris dumped into the North Atlantic Ocean, new research suggests.

A 2013 circumpolar expedition discovered hundreds of tons of plastic debris, from fishing lines to plastic films, ecologist Andrés Cózar of the University of Cádiz in Spain and colleagues report April 19 in Science Advances. While many areas remain relatively unpolluted, the density of plastic trash in the Arctic waters east of Greenland and north of Europe rivals plastic pileups in waters closer to the equator, despite few nearby human populations. Even more plastic probably lurks on the seafloor, the researchers suspect.

Ocean currents carried that plastic northward from the North Atlantic Ocean, the researchers propose. Based on the kind of plastic found, the researchers say the debris probably originated from the U.S. East Coast and Europe. While the study estimates that the Arctic contains less than 3 percent of all global floating plastic, that number will only rise as currents continue carrying pollution poleward, putting Arctic ecosystems at risk.

arctic trash
MOSAIC MATTER The beauty of this collage belies its materials: plastic debris found in the Arctic waters just above the North Atlantic. Andrés Cózar
more arctic trash
FAR-REACHING FRAGMENTS A wide variety of often miniscule plastic debris found in the Arctic Ocean included bits of fishing lines and plastic films. Andrés Cózar
where trash ends up
DUMP SITES Floating plastic debris in the Arctic is most abundant north of Europe and east of Greenland, newly reported observations show. The white area shows the extent of the polar cap during an August 2013 expedition to measure concentrations of plastics in the surrounding waters. That plastic originates in the North Atlantic before being swept northward by ocean currents (green) into the Arctic Ocean. Andrés Cózar

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