Sun, May 06, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Micro-plastics found in Arctic sea ice: ‘nowhere is immune
北極海浮冰發現塑膠微粒 無處得以倖免

Melt ponds on the sea ice in the Central Arctic are pictured in an undated photo.

Photo: AFP

Researchers warned last Tuesday of a “troubling” accumulation of micro-plastics in sea ice floating in the Arctic ocean, a major potential source of water pollution as global warming melts the sheets of frozen water.

A team from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) found 17 different plastic types in ice samples gathered during three Arctic expeditions on board the research icebreaker Polarstern in 2014 and 2015. They included plastic from shopping bags and food packaging, from ship paint, fishing nets, nylon and polyester found in synthetic fabrics and cigarette filters.

One sample contained the highest concentration of micro-plastics ever found in sea ice — up to 12,000 particles per liter of frozen water. This was two to three times higher than any past measurement, the research team wrote in the journal Nature Communications.

The discovery suggests micro-plastics “are now ubiquitous within the surface waters of the world’s ocean,” sea ice physicist Jeremy Wilkinson of the British Antarctic Survey said in a comment on the study. “Nowhere is immune,” he said via the Science Media Centre in London.

Sea ice grows from the freezing of seawater directly underneath the existing ice, thus incorporating floating micro-plastics as it grows downward, he explained. This means the plastics were present as the ice was growing, and drifting, in the Arctic Ocean.

Of particular concern was the particles’ small size. Some were only 11 micrometers across — about a sixth the diameter of a human hair, the team said. This “means they could easily be ingested by Arctic micro-organisms, such as small crustaceans on which fish feed,” said study coauthor Ilka Peeken, an AWI biologist. “No one can say for certain how harmful these tiny plastic particles are for marine life, or ultimately also for human beings.”



塑膠微粒 n.

(su4 jiao1 wei2 li4)


北極的 adj.

(bei3 ji2 de5)


聚酯纖維 n.

(ju4 zhi3 xian1 wei2)

synthetic fabrics

合成織物 phr.

(he2 cheng2 zhi1 wu4)


攝食 v.

(she4 shi2)


聚乙烯 n.

(ju4 yi3 xi1)

Micro-plastics are less than five millimeters long, about the size of a sesame seed. They come in the form of “micro-beads” used in face scrubs and toothpaste, or are created when larger pieces are degraded by the sun, temperature changes, mechanic abrasion, or ocean wave action.

For the study, Peeken and a team used a spectrometer to bombard the ice cores with infrared light. They analyzed the radiation reflected by the plastic pieces to determine their likely origins. Samples from the Canada Basin, fed by water from the northeast Pacific via the Bering Strait, were high in polyethylene used in packaging material, leading the authors to conclude these particles came mainly from the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch — a swirling plastic dump in the ocean now bigger than France, Germany and Spain combined.

The contribution of micro-plastics to ocean pollution is unclear. According to environmental group WWF, 8.8 million tonnes of plastic enters the oceans every year, the equivalent of a garbage truck dumping a full load every minute. On current trends, warns the UN, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050. Other studies have recently warned that humans are unconsciously ingesting micro-plastics from shellfish, tap water and bottled water.




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