Amphibious Trilogies

Moving plastics

DAY 16 on the Arctic Floating University Expedition
Saturday 6 July 2019

In a lecture on Marine Litter by the Russian scientist, Anna Vesman, she voiced the question ..

According to this chart, 62,3% of marine litter is made up of microplastic particles. But that does not answer the question about why, in general, people think about plastics in the oceans.

In popular media an accumulation of floating plastics are often referred to as floating islands and garbage patches. These metaphors are misleading. Islands and garbage patches are land-based concepts. Floating islands are not really ‘islands’ and garbage patches are not really ‘patches.’ Rather, they are a menagerie of marine debris, entangled and floating in the water.

River-borne plastics are a major source of plastics in the ocean. Other ways that plastic get’s into the ocean include direct dumping, by wind-borne carriage, by ships and lost fishing gear.

Altering states: Break down in three stages.

When the plastic debris are subjected to high salinity conditions they become very small microplastic particles – hard to see, hard to imagine and hard to locate as they are carried on ocean currents, and wind-borne gyres. They are always on the move. Horizontally, close to the water surface – or vertically, sinking deep down in the sea.

Most visible and disturbing impact concerning microplastics are the ingestion, suffocation and entanglement of hundreds of marine species. Plastic pollution also threatens food safety and quality, human health and contributes to climate change. No wonder that mircoplastics are called Mermaids’ tears. And by the way, the term ‘microplastic beads’ also relates to cosmetics, detergents and microplastic fibres. The mermaids do cry. Listen up! What is at stake in the world and in this instance, what’s at stake in the Arctic regions?

What is the journey of microplastics to the Arctic?

Image. Movement of water in the Arctic Ocean. Blue arrows: cold, relatively fresh water. Red arrows: warm, salty water that has entered the system from the North Atlantic. Also shows the prominent Beaufort Gyre. Credit: Jack Cook, WHOI (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute).

Sea ice and surface water move around the Arctic Ocean for more than 2 years due to two big currents—the Beaufort Gyre and the Trans Polar Drift. This means that sea ice and surface water, and also anything floating in it or stuck in the sea ice are stuck in the Arctic Ocean before exiting to the North Atlantic. -Nancy Bazilchuk, 2019 1.

What is the life of the “Plastisphere” ?

Plastisphere communities are distinct from surrounding surface water, implying that plastic serves as a novel ecological habitat in the open ocean. Plastic has a longer half-life than most natural floating marine substrates, and a hydrophobic surface that promotes microbial colonization and biofilm formation, differing from autochthonous substrates in the upper layers of the ocean. – Zettler et all, 2013 2.

1. Tracing the journey of microplastics in the Arctic, Nancy Bazilchuk, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Oct 16, 2019).

2. Zettler, Erik R.; Mincer, Tracy J.; Amaral-Zettler, Linda A. (19 June 2013). “Life in the “Plastisphere”: Microbial Communities on Plastic Marine Debris”Environmental Science & Technology47 (13): 7137–46.


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