Bremerhaven, Germany (dpa) - An international research team has found that plastic trash littering the world's oceans is now even floating in Arctic waters.
The marine trash survey, by Germany’s Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and Belgium’s Laboratory for Polar Ecology, was one of the first conducted north of the Arctic Circle.
In July 2012 a research team led by AWI biologist Melanie Bergmann looked for floating trash in the Fram Strait, between eastern Greenland and Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, from the German polar research vessel Polarstern and by helicopter.
A total of 31 pieces of trash were spotted over a distance of 5,600kilometres. Bergmann noted, however, that the team could only make out the larger pieces, "therefore our numbers are probably an underestimate.
"Results of the survey were published on the online portal of the Switzerland-based scientific journal Polar Biology. In a previous study, Bergmann concluded that the density of plastic, glass and other types of litter on the Fram Strait seabed was 10 to 100 times higher than at the surface - and increasing.
Although it’s unclear how the floating trash made it so far north, Bergmann said it might have come from a trash vortex forming in the Barents Sea north of Norway and Russia, which is thought to be fed by the densely populated coastal regions of Northern Europe.
Trash vortices form when floating pieces of plastic are caught up in large, circling ocean currents and then pulled toward the centre.
Besides the one in the Barents Sea, the AWI said, there are five other known marine trash vortices around the world.
Another possible cause of the Arctic trash is receding Arctic sea ice due to global warming, allowing fishing trawlers and cruise liners to operate - and leave litter - farther north.
The researchers said the floating trash posed a threat particularly to seabirds, which feed on surface prey. Plastic has already been found in the stomachs of indigenous seabirds and Greenland sharks.