Studying polar microplastics and nanoplastics


Plastics make up the largest quantity of the non-biodegradable material contaminating the world’s oceans and is a huge environmental concern because its longevity means that it can be distributed over huge distances from its origin, and accumulate in remote areas such as the Poles. Once in the ocean, mechanical and biological processes cause plastics to break down into microplastics, which are difficult to remove from the ocean and are a threat to the diverse marine food webs and ecosystems supported by polar waters. Nanuq-Manta was the first study to assess the presence and distribution of microplastics in the Arctic waters at 82°7N of latitude.

The Polarquest team carried out microplastic sampling across the Arctic, using the Mantanet. Learn about how the team collected these samples in "Recipe: How to sample microplastics in the ocean".

Water samples were collected in the top 16 cm of surface water and sub-surface samples from the vessel’s on-board seawater pump, situated 6 m below the surface. This will allow for future microplastic monitoring and to a risk assessment of the potential impacts of decreasing sea ice, increasing shipping and commercial activity.

Scientific Results

Safiria Buono collecting microplastics in the Arctic waters.

A total of 30 microplastic sampling stations were carried out, with one at the record latitude of 82°07 N, right on the edge of the ice, by 19-year-old microplastic operator Safiria Buono. The samples will be analyzed by the Marine Institute (ISMAR) of CNR (National Research Council of Italy), but “one of the conclusions which can already be drawn from a simple visual check is that, even at these high latitudes, the quantity of macro plastic loitering the most remote and wildest beaches of our planet is astonishing” she says. “A piece of plastic was caught in the Mantanet even at 82°N!”

Safiria describes more of her experiences sampling microplastics in the Arctic in "Dispatch from Nanuq: taking the Northern-most microplastics sample". Look forward to more scientific results from this project, as analysis is ongoing on the samples.