A study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin reveals that ice core samples collected from East Antarctica contain 96 microplastic particles from 14 different types of polymers.
Microplastics are a really bad thing for the environment. But just how bad is it, really? According to the University of Tasmania Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, the situation is beyond worrying. For the first time ever,m experts have identified microplastic contamination in Antarctic Sea Ice. The discovery was made by researchers from IMAS and experts from the Australian Antarctic Division.
The discovery of microplastics has ben detailed in a study published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin. The researchers reveal in the study how they analyzed ice cores collected in East Antarctica back in 2009 and found as many as 96 microplastic particles from 14 different types of polymer.
Although previous studies have revealed the presence of plastic pollution in Antarctic surface waters and sediments, as well as in Arctic Sea ice, the researchers believe this is the first time traces of plastic have been discovered in Antarctic sea ice.
“The remoteness of the Southern Ocean has not been enough to protect it from plastic pollution, which is now pervasive across the world’s oceans. Forming from seawater, around 80 percent of Antarctic sea ice melts and reforms each year, providing seasonal opportunities for microplastics on the sea surface to become trapped in the ice,” revealed IMAS student and lead author Anna Kelly.
As revealed by the researchers, ice cores analyzed from coastal land-fast sea-ice averaged as many as 12 particles of microplastics per liter.
“While this concentration is lower than that found in some Arctic sea ice samples, the 14 different polymer types we identified is only slightly less than the 17 found in Arctic studies,” Kelly explained
The researchers also revealed that the microplastic polymers they discovered within the ice cores were much larger compared to those discovered in the Arctic. This may be a telltale sign of local pollution sources since the plastic has less time to breakdown into smaller fibers compared to being transported across long distances through ocean currents.
“Local sources could include clothing and equipment used by tourists and researchers, while the fact that we also identified fibers of varnish and plastics commonly used in the fishing industry suggests a maritime source,” Kelly explained.
The new discovery suggests that sea ice can be a great reservoir for microplastics. Instead of the particles sinking deep to the oceans seabed, the plastic becomes entrapped in Antarctic ice, which also allows it to persist longer near the sea surface.
This is bad not only for the environment but for the diverse ecosystems that exist in the region.
“This would make them more available for consumption by marine organisms such as krill, a keystone species in Southern Ocean ecosystems, and consequently marine predators higher up the food chain,” Kelly revealed.
Worryingly, the teachers say that microplastic contamination may be far greater in West Antarctica since the Antarctic peninsula hosts the bulk of Antarctic tourism, as well as research stations and marine traffic.