A new study from researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany found that microplastic—tiny chunks only a few micrometers long that are easily ingested by animals and seem to spread everywhere—now contaminates Arctic sea ice at an unprecedented rate. While alarming, this finding comes as no surprise to those who study ocean contamination. However, quantitative data about the level of sea ice contamination gives scientists a baseline measurement as we work to make things better.
The study was published this week in Nature Communications. Its findings highlight “just how pervasive this type of pollution has become in every last corner of our planet,” says study author Melanie Bergmann. The researchers found extremely high concentrations of plastic in their samples—up to 12,000 particles per liter of sea ice, or about 45,000 particles per gallon. Much of it was polyethylene, she says, which likely comes from single-use packaging. That means this study provides some clear recommendations: “We really ought to reduce its production to reduce leakage to the environment.”