In the shallow Siberian seas, the scientists found particles from ship paint as well as nylon waste from fishing nets. Here, they suggest expanding shipping and fishing industries are “leaving their mark” in the Arctic.
“We traced back the journey of the ice floes we sampled and can now safely say that both the region in which the sea ice is initially formed and the water masses in which the floes drift through the Arctic while growing, have an enormous influence on the composition and layering of the encased plastic particles,” said researcher Ilka Peeken.
A total of 17 different types of microplastics – tiny particles that slough off of everyday materials – were found in the sea ice, including plastics used in vehicle parts (polypropylene), clothing (nylon), and cigarette filters (cellulose acetate).
“The sea ice binds all this plastic litter for two to a maximum of eleven years – the time it takes for ice floes from the marginal seas of Siberia or the North American Arctic to reach the Fram Strait, where they melt,” said Peeken.
It’s not clear yet whether the plastic particles are released into the Arctic or if they’re transported farther south with ocean currents, but the researchers say it’s entirely possible algae and bacteria colonize the plastic and sink it to deeper waters.