Sampling Microplastics from the North Pole
Microplastics samples collected during the Polarquest2018 expedition, and stored frozen at the CNR (National Research Council) Laboratory of Marine Biology in Lerici (La Spezia), are currently being counted by Valeria (it has to be the same individual according to the scientific protocol) using standardized criteria. Under the supervision of the microplastic expert and lab director Stefano Aliani, Valeria first measures fiber length and diameter of each sample with a micrometer. Then she uses the lab’s FT-IR microscope to measure the polymeric composition of these floating particles.
Polymer verification with reference spectra is fundamental to identify what is plastic and what is not and to draw scientific conclusions about the quantities of plastic present in our oceans. Moreover, each polymer type tells the story of the plastic object the sample comes from. Through the characterization of the chemical identity of each polymer, scientists can trace back the industrial product at the origin of the microplastic sample filtered by the mesh used by Nanuq in the Arctic Ocean and on the North Pole ice shelf itself! As well as provide detailed information on their abundance and geographical distribution. Geographical differences in sample composition are important to demonstrate heterogeneity in plastics distribution and the complex interplay between pollution sources, sinks and residence times of different polymers at sea.
To learn more about the scientific process of microplastic analysis see this research paper published on Nature by Stefano Aliani and colleagues: https://www.nature.com/articles/srep37551
Find out more on microplastics:
- "Recipe: How to sample microplastics in the ocean"
- Safiria's "Dispatch from Nanuq: taking the Northern-most microplastics sample"
- Nanuq: “Even out in the Arctic waters, plastic is all too common”
- Feature article on Nanuq’s search for the 6th microplastic island, in the Arctic ocean.
- Contribute to Polarquest2018 Microplastic campaign.