LONDON (Reuters) – Tiny pieces of plastic have been found in ice cores drilled in the Arctic by a U.S.-led team of scientists, underscoring the threat the growing form of pollution poses to marine life in even the remotest waters on the planet.
The researchers used a helicopter to land on ice floes and retrieve the samples during an 18-day icebreaker expedition through the Northwest Passage, the hazardous route linking the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
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“We had spent weeks looking out at what looks so much like pristine white sea ice floating out on the ocean,” said Jacob Strock, a graduate student researcher at the University of Rhode Island, who conducted an initial onboard analysis of the cores.
“When we look at it up close and we see that it’s all very, very visibly contaminated when you look at it with the right tools — it felt a little bit like a punch in the gut,” Strock told Reuters by telephone on Wednesday.
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Strock and his colleagues found the material trapped in ice taken from Lancaster Sound, an isolated stretch of water in the Canadian Arctic, which they had assumed might be relatively sheltered from drifting plastic pollution.
The team drew 18 ice cores of up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) long from four locations and saw visible plastic beads and filaments of various shapes and sizes.
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“The plastic just jumped out in both its abundance and its scale,” said Brice Loose, an oceanographer at the University of Rhode Island and chief scientist of the expedition, known as the Northwest Passage Project.
The scientists’ dismay is reminiscent of the consternation felt by explorers who found plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean’s Marianas Trench, the deepest place on Earth, during submarine dives earlier this year.
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The Northwest Passage Project is primarily focused on investigating the impact of manmade climate...
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