The study by Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), which has a research station at Ny Alesund on Svalbard, confirmed the existence of large pieces of plastic floating in the Fram Strait, the area of the Arctic Sea between Svalbard and East Greenland.
AWI's Dr Melanie Bergmann surveyed the strip of sea after hitching a lift on the research ice-breaker Polarstern.
“We found a total of 31 pieces of litter,” she said. “Since we conducted our surveys from the bridge, 18 metres above sea level, and from a helicopter, we were only able to spot the larger pieces of litter. Therefore, our numbers are probably an underestimate.”
In the article, which was published in the journal Polar Biology on October 21st, Bergmann argues that plastic waste could be coming from a new sixth global garbage patch forming in the Barents Sea.
“It is conceivable that part of that litter then drifts even farther to the north and northwest, and reaches the Fram Strait,” she said in an AWI press release.
“Another cause for litter in the Arctic could be the retreat of the Arctic sea ice. As a result more and more cruise liners and fish trawlers are operating further north, following the cod. Most likely, litter from the ships intentionally or accidentally ends up in the waters of the Arctic. We expect this trend to continue.”
Plastic floating in the Arctic is a hazard to seabirds. A recent study at Isfjorden fjord on Spitsbergen showed that 88 percent of the northern fulmars examined had swallowed plastic.
Fulmarus glacialis on cliff. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons