Mystery of 'Missing Plastics' Solved in Arctic Ice
Melting will release 1T plastic pieces into oceans: study
By Neal Colgrass, Newser Staff
Posted May 24, 2014 3:45 PM CDT

(Newser) – So about the hundreds of millions of tons of plastics we've been releasing into the oceans—it went where, exactly? According to a new study, much of it was trapped in Arctic ice and will be released as the ice melts, USA Today reports. At current melting rates, more than 1 trillion pieces of microplastic—like fibers, polymer beads, and fragments under 5 millimeters in length—will reach Earth's oceans over the next decade. "It was such a surprise to me to find them in such a remote region," co-author Rachel Obbard tells Science. "These particles have come a long way."

Obbard and her colleagues based their figures on ice cores taken over two expeditions and analyzed under a microscope. What they found: 54% rayon (not technically a plastic, since it's wood-based, but it's still a "manmade semi-synthetic"), along with polyester (21%), nylon (16%), polypropylene (3%), and others in smaller amounts. So should we worry? Scientists don't know yet, but a California ecologist has studied how plastics can remain in the tissues of marine organisms and possibly release pollutants upon ingestion. "We’re starting to worry a bit more," he says.

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Resident of the Unit
Dec 31, 2014 5:18 AM CST
These are are plastic micro-pieces. Lint; individual fibers and small beads. This stuff is bodily insidious, not like big plastic toys and flip-flops. This is broken-down (or partially) material, which in aggregate adds up to a lot of weight. What is telling is, for all this to be trapped in ice, those ice sheets must have built very fast - how long are those core samples? 6"? or 6 feet?
Chuck Roast
Aug 3, 2014 1:15 AM CDT
It seems to me that it could be a money making opportunity if someone figured out how to gather up all the discarded plastic and recycle it........
May 30, 2014 8:52 AM CDT
I am sure it happened years ago because now i.e., when I am in California there is a homeless man coming every fifteen minutes to pickup plastic and soda cans, so he can turn them into cash. I don't understand why people are throwing empty bottles. When I was hiking, I saw many times plastic bottles thrown around the trail. They say that trash only knows trashing and I think that is a rght saying.