Plastic Pollution in the Arctic


ice in the Arctic ocean
Ice in the Arctic ocean

A study, “Plastic Pollution in the Arctic” reports that Arctic wildlife regularly ingest, become entangled in, or be smothered by plastic debris. Arctic species such as sculpin (Triglops nybelini), the northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), and belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) have been found with plastic inside them. Plastic ingestion may even affect marine invertebrates like zooplankton in the eastern Canadian Arctic and the Fram Strait (a sea channel between Greenland and Svalbard).

Plastics from agriculture, landfills, dumping, industry, household products, fisheries, offshore industry, and other such sources are routinely carried to and within the Arctic by atmospheric and aquatic circulation systems. Transported plastics from local and distant sources are therefore highly distributed. The United Nations estimates that approximately 150 million tons of plastic debris may be scattered across the Arctic. Plastics are found on Arctic shores, in varying levels of the water column, in sea ice, and inside the bodies of marine biota.

Plastic Pollution

Circulation systems, including wind, ocean currents, and freshwater river flows, move plastic pollution through Arctic ecosystems, especially as they break down and fragment into smaller constituent pieces. The physical effects of global warming, then, influence the distribution of plastics and microplastics in the Arctic by increasing the frequency and or intensity of extreme weather events, like flooding and windstorms. Sea level rise or higher poleward wind speeds from global warming have the potential to transport greater levels of plastic debris to Arctic ecosystems.


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