Microplastics Found in One of World's Remotest Places

96 particles found in sample of Antarctic sea ice
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 22, 2020 6:44 PM CDT
Microplastics Found in Antarctic Ice for First Time
A minke whale glides under the ice in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica.   (Regina Eisert/Anthony Powell /University of Canterbury via AP)

Grim news from one of the remotest places on Earth: Microplastics have been found for the first time in a sample of Antarctic sea ice. Researchers say they found 96 tiny plastic particles in an ice-core sample that had been stored in Tasmania since it was taken in 2009, the Guardian reports. According to a study in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, researchers found 14 kinds of plastic, including materials commonly used in the fishing industry and polyethylene, which is used in plastic bags. Study co-author Delphine Lannuzel, a sea ice chemist, says algae had formed around the plastic. Krill relies on sea-ice algae to grow, she says, raising concerns about "the bioaccumulation of the plastics in krill and in whales."

With 12 particles per liter, the concentration of microplastics was higher in the ice than in nearby seawater. Researchers believe equipment and clothing worn by tourists and researchers could be the source of some of the particles. Anna Kelly, lead researcher at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, tells the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that analyzing the sample was a complicated process. "We had to do quite a few test runs to make sure no plastic from me or from anywhere in the lab was getting into the ice," she says. Kelly plans to take more samples to see if the problem has become worse since 2009. "The more microplastics you have in the sea ice, the easier the ice melts, so it could have some big implications for biogeochemical cycles," she warns. (Read more Antarctica stories.)

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