Microplastics, a threat to Antarctica

English Section / 9 februarie

Microplastics, a threat to Antarctica

Versiunea în limba română

The widespread pollution of the world's waters by millions of tons of waste has flooded the oceans with microplastics. These are the result of the physical and chemical degradation of objects, a process that lasts hundreds of years. The consequences of this phenomenon have only been studied since the beginning of the 2000s, but they are still little known. According to Colombian researcher Paulo Tigreros, who is on board the ARC Simon Bolivar, a ship of the Colombian Navy dedicated to studying nature, microplastics are already "ubiquitous" in the oceans, and their effects can be fatal for animals and ecosystems. "We consider Antarctica as a continent totally isolated" from human activity, but "it reflects the environmental problems" of the planet, explains Jorge Tadeo Lozano, researcher at the University of Bogota, who accompanied this tenth scientific expedition of the Colombian Navy. Research conducted in 2019 by the University of Canterbury in New Zealand revealed the existence of microplastics in Antarctic snow, while more than 430 million tons of plastic are produced each year worldwide, according to the UN. Despite its distance, the "white continent" is very exposed to external threats, Tigreros warned. It is possible that the particles got there naturally, carried by ocean currents heading south. They can also be transmitted through the atmosphere or through the excrement of marine mammals and fish that, at certain times of the year, migrate to the tropics and return a few months later. The Antarctic ice sheet, with its penguins and seals, has been affected for years by rising global temperatures. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has just launched an expedition with Argentina on the subject, microplastics could further damage the great white continent "by reducing the reflection of the ice, by changing the surface roughness", stimulating "microbial activity" and acting as a thermal insulator.