Scientists have found a worrying amount of contamination by synthetic plastic fibers in Antarctica.
A new study focusing on the ice in Antarctica reveals that synthetic plastic fibers are presented in samples from air, ocean water, and ice sediments in the Weddell Sea. Scientists from Oxford University teamed up with a non-profit research institute called Nekton during an expedition to discover Endurance, the lost ship of Sir Ernest Shackleton. As revealed by the research paper, fibrous polyesters, mainly from textiles, were found in all samples.
Scientists note that most of the identified microplastic fibers were found in the Antarctic air samples. This reveals worrying details. Antarctic animals and seabirds could be breathing them in. Scientists performed a modeling analysis to find out more about how air circulates and how plastic is transported. First, they looked into the air paths and how plastic fibers could be transported. They found that the most significant amount of plastic fibers was associated with the wind originating from the southern regions of South America.
Plastics in Antarctica
The analysis reveals new clues about the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and associated polar front. Researchers say that these do not act, as previously thought, as an impenetrable barrier. This “natural barricade” would have prevented microplastics from entering the Antarctic region. Additionally, scientists found that the concentration of microplastics is much higher in sea ice than in other types of samples. Research indicates that microplastics become trapped during the creation of the sea ice sheet each year.
Also, ocean currents and winds are the primary carriers of plastic pollution. They allow the fibers to travel across the globe and even to the remotest parts of our planet. According to the scientists, the findings add urgency for a globally coordinated and crucial treaty to prevent microplastics from entering the environment, particularly the oceans.