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Microplastics And Seal Breathing Holes: Arctic Ocean Faces Graver Threats On Pollution And Climate Change

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Scientists have found a record volume of pieces of microplastics trapped in the Arctic Ocean, posing a grave impact on marine life and human health.

Researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research surveyed five regions in the Arctic Ocean and found up to 12,000 pieces of microplastics per liter of sea ice. This latest trip on the Arctic yielded trash volume that is thrice higher than previous studies.

Microplastics On The Ice

Most fragments of plastics, measuring about one-sixth the diameter of the human hair, come from paints, nylon, and polyester — some of the common materials found in cigarette filters.

Experts are concerned that the concentration of microplastics in the Arctic Ocean poses near-permanent contamination. Approximately 1 ton of plastic pieces were frozen in the Arctic ice, based on results of previous studies.

"The high microplastic concentrations in the sea ice can not only be attributed to sources outside the Arctic Ocean. Instead, they point to local pollution in the Arctic," said study author Dr. Ilka Peeken.

The study reported that the record levels of trash fragments in the Arctic come from the massive garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean. Dr. Jeremy Wilkinson of the British Antarctic Survey said "nowhere is immune" since microplastics are found permeating across the world's oceans.

Seal Breathing Holes

Meanwhile, the ice holes spotted over the Beaufort Sea are possible signs of a much graver threat. At first, NASA scientists thought that the holes are seal breathing holes, but Walt Meier, an atmospheric scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center offered an alternate explanation.

Meier said that while it is possible that those are seal breathing holes, the more relevant question is that why is the ice so thin that the seals managed to break through.

Meier explained that the warm water from the Mackenzie Delta is rising above the surface, which causes the thinning of the ice. He added that a phenomenon called finger rafting, brought by warmer temperatures, has resulted in less stable ice.

Thinning Of The Ice

The Arctic ice has grown to its second-lowest maximum cover of 5.59 million square miles. The thinning and melting of the Arctic ice affects the climate and weather patterns, as well as alter the food and habitat of living things that are dependent on the ice.

"The Arctic sea ice cover continues to be in a decreasing trend and this is connected to the ongoing warming of the Arctic," said Claire Parkinson, a senior climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

"It's a two-way street: the warming means less ice is going to form and more ice is going to melt, but also, because there's less ice, less of the sun's incident solar radiation is reflected off, and this contributes to the warming," Parkinson added.

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