Yes, the North Pole.
Now we can truly say that no place on Earth is free from our pollution. Less than ten degrees latitude from the North Pole, a British-led expedition led by Tim Gordon from Exeter University found the most remote piece of macroscopic plastic ever discovered. Hundreds of miles from all land, the chunks of polystyrene were just laying there. The team also used nets with perforations smaller than a millimeter to sieve the water for microplastics. Results were also pretty bad.
“For the 25 years I have been exploring the Arctic I have never seen such large and very visible items of rubbish,” said Hadow, the Guardian reports. “The blocks of polystyrene were just sitting on top of the ice.”
Ironically, the only reason why the team was able to see the pieces in the first place was that the year-round ice cover in that area of the central Arctic Ocean has melted due to climate change. It’s one bad thing that allowed us to see the other. But this makes things even more worrying. There is a lot of plastic trapped in the Arctic ice, and if it melts, it poses an extra threat to local wildlife.
“Finding pieces of rubbish like this is a worrying sign that melting ice may be allowing high levels of pollution to drift into these areas,” Gordon said. “This is potentially very dangerous for the Arctic’s wildlife.”
The melting will also create a negative feedback loop. As the ice melts, it exposes the Arctic to even more threats.
“The Arctic Ocean’s wildlife used to be protected by a layer of sea ice all year round. Now that is melting away, this environment will be exposed to commercial fishing, shipping and industry for the first time in history.”
As depressing as this is, it shouldn’t really surprise us that this happens. Previous research estimated that there are five trillion plastic pieces in the world’s oceans, and perhaps just as many trapped in the Arctic Ice. In one year alone, humans tossed eight million metric tons of plastic into the ocean. To put that into perspective, it’s a rubbish truck being thrown in the ocean every single minute. With that kind of plastic mass constantly being dumped, it’s expected that plastic will pop up anywhere and everywhere.
You can follow the Arctic Mission here. They constantly post awesome findings from their expedition, such as this compilation of zooplankton life or the time they met with polar bears.