The Arctic Ocean contains a surprisingly large amount of plastic waste pollution, especially compared to the low population of the area. The plastic in the Arctic comes from Europe and the US, researchers show in a publication that appears in Science Advances on 19 April. The authors, among which Erik van Sebille (Utrecht University), found that the Greenland and Barents seas have accumulated hundreds of tons of plastic debris. The debris is composed of approximately 300 billion pieces, mainly fragments around the size of a grain of rice, which makes it very difficult to clean up.
The team, consisting of researchers from eight countries, went on a five month expedition to the Arctic Ocean to complete a global map of floating plastic pollution. Most of the Arctic waters did not contain much plastic, but there was an area in the north of the Greenland and Barents seas with quite high plastic concentrations. Van Sebille, who was affiliated with Imperial College London at the time of the expedition, explains: “Using gps data from over 17,000 drifting buoys, we discovered that the plastic in the Arctic originates from Europe and the US. It is our plastic that ends up there, so it is our responsibility to fix the problem.”