Plastic waste pollutes entire Northern Sea Route


Plastic waste and microplastics pollutes the entire Northern Sea Route, Russian scientists have confirmed. The results of a recent expedition may provide crucial information about how some of the world’s most remote ocean areas are affected by the global issue of microplastics.

The Russian newspaper Izvestiya this week reported about the findings done during the Transarktika 2019 expedition, according to The Professor Multanovskiy vessel on 25 August set sail from Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean through the Northern Sea Route and to Murmansk, where the vessel berthed on 8 September. During the entire voyage, scientists found littering on the ocean surface, such as bottles, packaging and other plastic waste. However, what worries the scientists are the findings of microplastics.

Both in the Kara Sea as well as in the Barents Sea, large deposits of microplastics were found, plastic waste that is between one and five millimeters in size. Scientific findings along the Northern Sea Route underscores the degree to which plastic waste has polluted the world’s oceans.

– We took a high number of samples and investigated them in the ship’s laboratory. Particles were found in various sizes in all oceans, primarily in the Barents Sea and the Kara Sea. However, we are not yet able to provide specific numbers, says Alexandr Yershov, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources at the Russian State Medical University, told Izvestiya according to a translation of the original Russian article.

The results from the expedition are expected to be ready in about two months’ time. This is the first time ever that samples have been taken of microplastics waste along the entire Northern Sea Route.

The final research results may thus provide vital information about how some of the world’s most inaccessible ocean areas are affected by the global issue of microplastics at sea.

Microplastics are plastic waste smaller than five millimeters and often only a piece of plastic even as small as a grain of sand is defined as a microplastic.

Microplastics may consist of both small plastic grains added to cosmetics, clothes or other products as well as being a result of larger pieces of plastic being ripped to pieces in nature. Microplastics broken down is even more minute and referred to as nanoplastics.

Microplastics represent a danger to both animals and humans. Microplastics may end up in people’s food through fish or animals who consume this in polluted environments.

The Northern Sea Route, also referred to as the Northeast Passage, is the name of the sea route between Europe and Asia that runs north of Russia, and it is some 5,500 kilometers long.

Using the NSR may potentially reduce travel time from Europe to Asia by two weeks, however, the window of sailing each year is limited to two to four months. On parts of the route, vessels will depend on icebreakers.

The Danish container shipping company Maersk has announced that it plans on using the Northern Sea Route for shipping between Europe and Asia.

The entire route is located in the Arctic and within the Russian economic zone, which stretches out to 200 nautical miles from the state’s coast. Climate changes and ice melting has made the NSR more accessible than before. In 2017, a vessel traveled the NSR without assistance from an icebreaker for the first time ever. According to Izvestiya, 20 million tons of goods were transported through the NSR in 2018, which sets a new record.

Yershov says that the surface pollution the expedition found comes from bottles and waste thrown overboard from ships traveling the Northern Sea Route.

The largest amounts of waste were found in the Okhotsk Sea in eastern Russia, the Tchuktoskiy Sea near the Bering Strait, and also in the Barents Sea.