Holes in Arctic Ice a Mystery

Mysterious Ice Circles In The Arctic Ocean Have Left NASA Scientists Puzzled

Sea ice grows from the freezing of seawater directly underneath the existing ice, thus incorporating floating microplastics as it grows downward, he explained. Such plastic pollution could have broad consequences for marine - and human - life. He and his crew were flying over the Arctic as part of NASA's IceBridge mission, which aims to take over the work of studying ice from above during an eight-year period when NASA doesn't have any ICESat satellites doing the job.

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. That's a lot of flight hours spent taking the snap of the region's land ice and sea ice.

But where is coming from?

Every year, NASA takes a high-flying trip over the Arctic to monitor the ice and gather information on the area where people nearly never tread.

"Microplastic particles were found throughout all cores sampled".

But this latest research has amplified his concerns.

"Free-floating microplastic particles are often colonized by bacteria and algae, making them heavier and heavier".

"It seems sea ice was an ultimate sink, and that melting is altering that fate".

Another scientist has chimed in with different possibility: convection - warm water from the river or inland mountains may be reaching the surface cooling off and sinking again, producing a continuous circulation of material and transfer of heat.

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. "The sea ice is more mobile now, and has more open areas that can re-freeze", said Walt Meier, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre. Copepods are small crustaceans crucial to the underwater food chain, a meal of choice for whales, Alaska pollock, and even other small crustaceans like krill. While some creatures can ingest this plastic debris without any known ill-effects, mussels, for example, can suffer inflammation. "That's why it's important to know we have small particles there", Peeken said, adding that the potential health risks are unknown.

Microplastics are particles, fibres or fragments which range in size from just a few thousandths of a millimetre to under five millimetres. It's been going on for a decade now, and most of the time the scientists make their observations with little fanfare. This hints at the diverse sources of the plastic pollutant.

With climate change turbo-charging the rates at which Arctic sea ice melts, more and more of these plastic microparticles will be released into the ocean.

Study author Dr Ilka Peeken said: "These findings suggest that both the expanding shipping and fishing activities in the Arctic are leaving their mark. Instead, they also point to local pollution in the Arctic".

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