The Barents Sea is the most littered in the Arctic
The Barents Sea turned out to be the most polluted from all the seas in the Arctic along the vessels along the Northern Sea Route (NSR). These are the first conclusions of the study of microplastic pollution, which was conducted from July to September as part of the «Transarctic 2019» expedition, associate professor of the Department of Ecology and Bioresources of the Russian State Hydrometeorological University Alexandra Ershova said.
"Even visually it was visible that in the Barents and Kara Seas garbage just floated on the surface, a lot of bags, cans, bottles – everything what is thrown out or washed off the ships. Pollution dynamics is similar to European studies: the Barents Sea is a battery of garbage that comes from ships or is brought by the flow from the Atlantic. There is a huge amount of garbage, despite the fact that the water in the sea is clean and blue. Siberian seas are much cleaner", - she said.
Ershova noted that the research would end on October 25, and as a result new unique data on the background pollution of the Northern Sea Route in anticipation of its active use by sea transport would be obtained.
Transarctica 2019 is a large-scale project of Roshydromet, organized on behalf of the Russian government. Representatives of University were invited to the fourth stage of the expedition; they traveled from Vladivostok to Murmansk for 45 days, took samples to determine the level of pollution in the water throughout the NSR and to understand how garbage enters the Arctic and what then happens to it.
The danger of microplastics
The relevance of research is in the fact that the production of plastic has greatly increased, more than half of it has been produced over the past 15 years, because our life is already impossible without this material - convenient, light, practical, durable, and in fact - eternal. The most dangerous microplastic is less than 1 mm in size.
"It, like a sponge, absorbs everything that is in the aquatic environment - toxic and harmful substances, pesticides, heavy metals, pathogenic microbes. Filtering organisms filter it and accumulate in their organisms; as a result, microplastic gets into human food. There are a lot of these filter organisms in the Arctic, from microscopic crustaceans to whales, which filter up to 70 thousand liters of water at a time. Therefore, the Arctic is a particularly vulnerable region to microplastic pollution", - she said.
For the first time ever
The expert emphasized that such large-scale studies in the world have not yet been conducted. "We are the first to travel the entire Northern Sea Route from Vladivostok to Murmansk, taking samples in all the seas: Okhotsk, Bering, Chukchi, East Siberian, Laptev, Kara, Barents seas. We went through seven seas, developed, tested and adapted samplers, including in stormy conditions. The method has shown efficiency and cheapness, it is not necessary to stop the vessel for sampling, because a special permit is required to stop», - University representative said.
It’s not the first year that the University has been dealing with the problem of plastic pollution; studies were begun several years ago with monitoring of beaches. This year, experts conducted research on the beaches of the Gulf of Finland, samples of sand, water, bottom sediments were taken. They intend to develop observation methods, since there are no standardized methods anywhere in the world. The Gulf of Finland is interesting as part of the freezing seas, because all methods in Europe are aimed at warm seas.
The main research results will be published after processing the selected samples. The most time-consuming studies of bottom sediments must be carried out in sterile laboratory conditions.