Waste At The Bottom Of The Arctic Ocean

Waste at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean is about to become a real problem. Is that my personal opinion only? No. One brief paragraph of a recent study by the AWI has left me absolutely speechless: “In comparison, even the lowest values from the Arctic seafloor are ten times higher (than the waste concentration in the so-called garbage patches)”. They must be joking, I thought. No, they’re not!

plastic bag bottom of arctic ocean 2500 metres depth (cMBergmann)
plastic bag bottom of arctic ocean 2500 metres depth (cMBergmann)

First of all, how cool is that: You are on a ship, and every 30 seconds you get a new picture from the ocean ground beneath you. The OFOS (Ocean Floor Observation System) is the technology behind this. It drifts a metre and a half above the ocean floor and delivering still and moving pictures.

In the past, the scientists from AWI have observed the ocean bottom for sponges, sea cucumbers, fish or any other living creature down below. In recent years, however, their attention has also been grabbed by waste at the bottom of the ocean, directly on the seafloor. Once they started having a look also at that waste in oceans, they produced some worrying numbers. Between 2002 and 2011 the waste at the bottom of the ocean in one square kilometre more than doubled (2.500 metres beneath sea surface).

Whether all that debris is being transported to the Arctic from the North Atlantic or whether ships that are now getting farther northwards have been the source, this is still to be investigated.

Another big question still needs to be answered. How much waste is there actually on the ocean floor? To count litter drifting on the surface is a rather easy task. To try and get some numbers for the debris at the bottom is, well, a hell of a lot more difficult. And: it is not only more complex but also a lot more expensive.

More waste at the bottom of the oceans than in the gyres

waste in ocean 5000 metres depth (cABoetius)
waste in ocean 5000 metres depth (cABoetius)

Now let me briefly talk about the one sentence that shocked me and drove me to write this post. The major ocean gyres, also called garbage patches, show a litter concentration of approximately 60 pieces of (larger) plastic per square kilometre. Numbers from the AWI suggest that on the Arctic seafloor the lowest numbers available are ten times higher. I found this to be rather surprising (and shocking) indeed, especially because this is the Arctic seafloor. What would it look like in more frequented areas of the oceans? A lot worse, I guess.

Check out AWI-website for more details

To get more details and background information please check this link for the complete AWI-article (litter in the ocean depths). You may also want to check their entire content on waste in oceans, they have some pretty good material available.

I am always more than glad to receive additional reading material, sources of information and feedback on all sorts of topics. This one here, waste in oceans, is in my top three list for information gathering. If you have more data, interesting websites and/or specific information (or just a story to share) I would be more than happy if you could drop me a line (either via the contact form or comments below). Many thanks!


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