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At the Poles there are hardly any people, especially not under water. Nevertheless, there are microplastics. Canadian scientists studying water samples from various Arctic expeditions found an average of 40 particles per cubic metre of Arctic sea water.

For comparison: The Isar Munich contains 88 plastic particles per cubic meter of water, the Rhine in Basel is 10, the Danube in Deggendorf (Bavaria) 151, the Emscher river in North Rhine-Westphalia, at the mouth of the Rhine even 213 particles. An expedition crossing the Atlantic from north to south found up to 7000 particles per cubic metre of water in the upper layers of the water. Artificial particles smaller than five millimeters are called" microplastics".

Microplastics at any depth of the Arctic Sea

The Canadian team’s water samples come from several North Pole expeditions up to 1000 meters deep. The researchers left out the top layer of water because there is usually a high concentration of waste from shipping, such as styrofoam or components of fishing lines.

Where the many tiny plastic parts in deeper water came from can be attributed: 92 percent were the smallest fibers, three quarters of which were made of polyester. Most likely, they come from clothes that are washed out during washing and enter the sea via the sewage.

From a chemical point of view, polyester is a generic term for synthetic

Plastics such as polycarbonates and PET. Polyester fibres are used to make fabrics such as satin, chiffon and lurex. Polyester fabric is the main component of outdoor and sportswear, lining materials, seat cushions and seat belts. Not to forget the ubiquitous fleece pullover, which you can almost watch losing the fibers.

According to “Nabu”, a washing machine releases thousands of fibres every time it washes, and according to other research, even millions. Sewage treatment plants usually cannot filter the tiny fibres.

“The results simply show how much our planet is polluted by synthetic polymers, “Peter Ross, lead author of the study published in Nature Communications, told Wired magazine.

What plastic parts Ross ' team found changed with increasing depth. Near the Arctic sea surface, the researchers found a mixture of different plastics; at a depth of 1000 metres, almost all of them were polyester.

For their study, the scientists relied on infrared spectroscopy (Fourier transform infrared spectrometry, FTIR), an analysis technique that also indicates whether very small particles are of natural or artificial origin.

Polyester fibers swim from the Atlantic to the Pacific FTIR, in which the reflection of infrared radiation is measured, provides information about the type of material as well as about when a material ages. Samples from the Eastern sector of the Arctic sea, Greenland and the Atlantic ocean, contained three times more particles than those from the West over the Bering sea, Canada, and the Pacific. The fibres were also three times as long in the east and their signature was more similar to that of the new polyester.

“When fibers get into the Arctic or into the environment, they weather, they get older with time,” Ross explains. “The infrared signature changes with sunlight, with chemical processes, with bacterial decomposition.“The researchers assume that the particles migrate from east to west, i.e. from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and decompose in the process.

Two other studies last year confirm this thesis. One found marine sediments spiked with jeans fibers in the Arctic. The other proved that currents transport microplastics through the oceans, which then accumulate en masse in “hot spots” on the seabed. The tiny particles can travel large distances. How this amount of tiny plastic particles affects the food chain is the subject of current research. Researchers have already proven that fish larvae consider the particles in the sediment to be food.

Polyester lint-brakes

Polyester clothing will not disappear from the market so quickly. It is too practical and indispensable in some areas. Needless ,however, is “fast fashion” - cheap garments that last only one season, or those that we never wear at all. Consumers can decide against it and refrain from buying it. There is also something good for the environment if you have the washing machine retrofitted with a microfiber filter or use a laundry bag that holds the fibres back.