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Emperor Penguin at serious risk of extinction due to climate change

Emperor Penguin at serious risk of extinction due to climate change


The emperor penguin, which roams Antarctica’s frozen tundra and chilly seas, is at severe risk of extinction in the next 30 to 40 years as a result of climate change, an expert from the Argentine Antarctic Institute (IAA) warned.


The emperor penguin, which roams Antarctica’s frozen tundra and chilly seas, is at severe risk of extinction in the next 30 to 40 years as a result of climate change, an expert from the Argentine Antarctic Institute warned

The emperor, the world’s largest penguin and one of only two penguin species endemic to Antarctica, gives birth during the Antarctic winter and requires solid sea ice from April through December to nest fledgling chicks.

If the sea freezes later or melts prematurely, the emperor family cannot complete its reproductive cycle.

“If the water reaches the newborn penguins, which are not ready to swim and do not have waterproof plumage, they die of the cold and drown,” said biologist Marcela Libertelli, who has studied 15,000 penguins across two colonies in Antarctica at the IAA.

This has happened at the Halley Bay colony in the Weddell Sea, the second-largest emperor penguin colony, where for three years all the chicks died.

Every August, in the middle of the southern hemisphere winter, Libertelli and other scientists at Argentina’s Marambio Base in Antarctica travel 65 km (40 miles) each day by motor bike in temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius (-40°F) to reach the nearest emperor penguin colony.

Once there, they count, weigh, and measure the chicks, gather geographical coordinates, and take blood samples. They also conduct aerial analysis.

The scientists’ findings point to a grim future for the species if climate change is not mitigated.

Emperor penguins are seen in Dumont d’Urville, Antarctica April 10, 2012. Picture taken April 10, 2012. REUTERS/Martin Passingham

“[Climate] projections suggest that the colonies that are located between latitudes 60 and 70 degrees [south] will disappear in the next few decades; that is, in the next 30, 40 years,” Libertelli told Reuters.

The emperor’s unique features include the longest reproductive cycle among penguins. After a chick is born, one parent continues carrying it between its legs for warmth until it develops its final plumage.


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ANTARCTICA: INVASIVE SPECIES ‘HITCHHIKING’ ON SHIPS


Species from around the world that are “hitching a lift” on ships threaten Antarctica’s pristine marine ecosystem.

CLIMATE CHANGE WILL TURN COASTAL ANTARCTICA GREEN


Scientists have created the first ever large-scale map of microscopic algae as they bloomed across the surface of snow along the Antarctic Peninsula coast. Results indicate that this ‘green snow’is likely to spread as global temperatures increase.


“The disappearance of any species is a tragedy for the planet,” said Libertelli. “Whether small or large, plant or animal – it doesn’t matter. It’s a loss for biodiversity.”

The emperor penguin’s disappearance could have a dramatic impact throughout Antarctica, an extreme environment where food chains have fewer members and fewer links, Libertelli said.

In early April, the World Meteorological Organization warned of “increasingly extreme temperatures coupled with unusual rainfall and ice melting in Antarctica” – a “worrying trend,” said Libertelli, since the Antarctic ice sheets have been depleting since at least 1999.

The rise of tourism and fishing in Antarctica has also put the emperor’s future at risk by affecting krill, one of the main sources of food for penguins and other species.

“Tourist boats often have various negative effects on Antarctica, as do the fisheries,” said Libertelli.

“It is important that there is greater control and that we think about the future.”

Source:

Lucila Sigal via Reuters



Conger ice shelf has collapsed: what you need to know, according to experts

Conger ice shelf has collapsed: what you need to know, according to experts


East Antarctica’s Conger ice shelf – a floating platform the size of Rome – broke off the continent on March 15, 2022. Since the beginning of satellite observations in the 1970s, the tip of the shelf had been disintegrating into icebergs in a series of what glaciologists call calving events.


Conger was already reduced to a 50km-long and 20km-wide strip attached to Antarctica’s vast continental ice sheet at one end and the ice-covered Bowman Island at the other. Two calving events on March 5 and 7 reduced it further, detaching it from Bowman and precipitating its final collapse a week later.

The world’s largest ice shelves fringe Antarctica, extending its ice sheet into the frigid Southern Ocean. Smaller ice shelves are found where continental ice meets the sea in Greenland, northern Canada and the Russian Arctic. By restraining how much the grounded ice flows upstream, they can control the loss of ice from the interior of the sheet into the ocean. When an ice shelf like Conger is lost, the grounded ice once kept behind the shelf may start to flow faster as the restraining force of the ice shelf is lost, resulting in more ice tumbling into the ocean.

Image of Antarctica overlain with ice flow speeds.
East Antarctica, where Conger once was, has seen fewer ice shelves collapse than West Antarctica. Bertie Miles/Nasa, Author provided

What caused the collapse?

Ice shelves are sometimes referred to as the “safety band” of Antarctica because they buttress the upstream flow of ice from the bordering ice sheet. Little of the Antarctic ice sheet melts at its surface, where snow piles up. Instead, most of the continent loses ice through calving and melting along the underside of the floating ice shelves.

A satellite image of the Conger ice shelf with coloured lines denoting historical extent.
Conger mapped from satellite images taken between 1973 and 2022. The ice shelf had been slowly breaking apart for 50 years. Bertie Miles/US Geological Survey, Author provided

The breaking and detachment of parts of ice shelves is a natural process: ice shelves generally go through cycles of slow growth punctuated by isolated calving events. But in recent decades, scientists have seen several large ice shelves undergoing total disintegration.

Along the Antarctic Peninsula, the whip-like land mass which extends from the West Antarctic mainland, these include Prince Gustav ice shelf (from 1989 to 1995), Larsen A ice shelf (1995), Larsen B (2002), and Wilkins ice shelf (2008 to 2009). In East Antarctica, where Conger once was, Cook ice Shelf was partially lost in the 1970s. Taken together, this series of collapses suggests that some underlying environmental conditions, such as ocean and atmosphere temperatures, are changing.

It is too soon to say what triggered the collapse of the Conger ice shelf, but it appears unlikely to have been caused by melting at the surface – there are no indications of any ponds atop the ice shelf. The most recent sequence of events also preceded the record high air temperatures recorded in Antarctica on March 18.


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Antarctic pearlwort is one of two flowering plants researchers say are spreading in Antarctica, due to warming temperatures.

FLOWERS SPREADING IN ANTARCTICA – WHICH EXPERTS SAY IS NOT A GOOD THING


Stony landscapes dotted with yellow flowers are not what many people picture when they imagine Antarctica. But a new study has found thanks to warming temperatures, colourful blooms are becoming an increasingly common sight on one Antarctic island.

ANTARCTICA: INVASIVE SPECIES ‘HITCHHIKING’ ON SHIPS


Species from around the world that are “hitching a lift” on ships threaten Antarctica’s pristine marine ecosystem.


What the future holds

As glaciologists, we see the impact of global warming on Antarctica in increasing ice loss with time. And what happens in Antarctica does not stay in Antarctica.

Two satellite images of the Conger ice shelf side-by-side show its pre- and post-collapse state.
The Conger ice shelf (outlined in blue) before and after its final calving events. Bertie Miles/US Geological Survey/European Space Agency, Author provided

The consequences of the Conger ice shelf collapse are unlikely to be of global significance as the catchment area feeding ice into the former shelf is small. And due to its shape, the Conger ice shelf was most likely not a significant buttress to the flow of ice upstream.

But global warming is making events like this more likely. And as more and more ice shelves around Antarctica collapse, ice loss will increase, and with it global sea levels. There is enough ice in the West Antarctic ice sheet to raise sea levels by several meters, and if East Antarctica starts losing significant amounts of ice, the impact on sea levels could be measured in tens of meters.

Not everything that happens in nature is due to global warming alone. Antarctica loses mass through the discharge of icebergs and waxing and waning ice shelves as part of a natural cycle. But what we are seeing now, with the collapse of the Conger ice shelf and others, is the continuation of a worrying trend whereby Antarctic ice shelves undergo area-wide collapse one after another.

Source:

Hilmar Gudmundsson, Adrian Jenkins and Bertie Miles at The Conversation



Flowers spreading in Antarctica – which experts say is not a good thing

Flowers spreading in Antarctica – which experts say is not a good thing


Stony landscapes dotted with yellow flowers are not what many people picture when they imagine Antarctica. But a new study has found thanks to warming temperatures, colourful blooms are becoming an increasingly common sight on one Antarctic island.


In a new Italian study, published in scientific journal Current Biology on Tuesday, researchers noticed a “striking” expansion in the population of two flowering Antarctic plants, which they say is the first evidence of climate change speeding up ecosystem shifts on the icy continent.

Antarctic hair grass and Antarctic pearlwort can both be found on Signy Island – a mostly ice-covered landmass just off the Antarctic Peninsula – and are the only two flowering plants native to the Antarctic region.

The new study found from 2009 to 2018, the number of sites where pearlwort could be found on the island increased 154 per cent, while the amount of hair grass spots climbed 28 per cent.

Not only were there more of the plants, but their range was expanding into the island’s typically colder upper-reaches.

If global temperature averages increase two more degrees, it is predicted Antarctica’s Western Ice Sheet will reach its tipping point (file photo).
If global temperature averages increase two more degrees, it is predicted Antarctica’s Western Ice Sheet will reach its tipping point (GETTY IMAGES).

Researchers theorised climate change was one of the main factors driving the shift.

Average summer air temperatures for Signy Island had increased 1.2 degrees Celsius from 1960 to 2011, before a “cold pulse” in 2012.

Summer temperatures had crept up again since, 0.9 C over the next seven years, and simulated experiments found both plants thrived in the warmth.

But the warmer temperatures were a double-edged sword, as they made it more likely plant and insect invaders could survive.

“Such climate warming may benefit some and possibly many native Antarctic terrestrial species and communities in isolation, but will also lead to increased risks from non-native species establishment.

“These may outcompete native species and trigger irreversible biodiversity loss and changes to these fragile and unique ecosystems.”

The Antarctic Peninsula region was expected to keep warming over the rest of the century, the study concluded.

“If this follows the ‘worst case’ business as usual scenario … Earth’s climate by as soon as 2030 could resemble warmer periods such as those recorded during the mid-Pliocene.”

Victoria University of Wellington climate scientist James Renwick said that could spell disaster for the Antarctic.

Climate change scientist James Renwick says more flowers in Antarctica isn’t as good as it sounds (file photo).
Climate change scientist James Renwick says more flowers in Antarctica isn’t as good as it sounds (ROSS GIBLIN).

“On the face of it, it could seem good, having more flowers – but it’s not a good thing.”

The warming climate posed a big risk to Antarctica’s biodiversity, he said.

“Life goes slow when it’s cold … the plants and animals that have lived there for a long time, they find it very hard to adapt to rapid change, [and] it’s changing very quickly.”


CLIMATE CHANGE WILL TURN COASTAL ANTARCTICA GREEN


Scientists have created the first ever large-scale map of microscopic algae as they bloomed across the surface of snow along the Antarctic Peninsula coast. Results indicate that this ‘green snow’is likely to spread as global temperatures increase.

ANTARCTICA: INVASIVE SPECIES ‘HITCHHIKING’ ON SHIPS


Species from around the world that are “hitching a lift” on ships threaten Antarctica’s pristine marine ecosystem.


Warming temperatures posed a bigger threat in the Antarctic, Renwick said, one which could have dire consequences for the rest of the world.

“We know if we let global warming get to two degrees [Celsius], we’re likely locking in the melting of the Western Ice Sheet – we’d be committing the world to four more metres of water.

“We just couldn’t stop sea level rise – it’d completely displace hundreds of thousands of people … huge amounts of land would be lost … people’s homes, land we rely on for agriculture.”

It would take hundreds of years for the ice sheet to melt in full, Renwick said, but climate change would wreak havoc in the meantime, increasing the intensity of floods and droughts across the globe.

“It’s the collapse of civilization – I can’t overstate this.”

Source:

Amber Allott at Stuff New Zealand



Giant canyon discovered underneath Vanderford Glacier in Antarctica, revealing history behind rising sea levels

Giant canyon discovered underneath Vanderford Glacier in Antarctica, revealing history behind rising sea levels


Australian Antarctic expeditioners have discovered an enormous, 2-kilometre-deep canyon underneath a glacier that may make it more vulnerable to warming oceans.


The discovery also indicates the Vanderford Glacier in East Antarctica once extended 60km further than it currently does and had a significant role in rising sea levels.

Voyage leader Lloyd Symons said the canyon extended at least 3.5km underneath the glacier, which might be influencing how quickly the ice was melting.

“The fact that there is such a deep canyon beneath this glacier would perhaps allow the possibility for warming waters to get underneath the glacier,” Mr Symons told the ABC.

“One of the issues for Antarctic glaciers at the moment is them being eaten away from underneath by warming waters coming down from the north.”

The Southern Ocean circulates warming waters from around the world, pushing them deep towards Antarctica where they lap against the colder ice.

Large glacier in Antarctica sits in sea
The Vanderford Glacier is slowly sliding into a warming Southern Ocean, contributing to rising sea levels.(ABC News: Henry Belot)

“If there is a deep channel underneath this glacier, then it’s possible that may not bode well for the Vanderford Glacier, but that, of course, requires further study,” Mr Symons said.

Satellite data from NASA indicates the surface height of the Vanderford Glacier has shrunk by about two metres since 2008.

East Antarctica has long been considered to be less affected by climate change than West Antarctica, which is below South America.

But recent studies of NASA satellite images indicate that is beginning to change, particularly around Vincennes Bay where the Vanderford Glacier ends.

A 3d image of a sectino of antarctica showing a long canyon in the middle in green
A 3D model of the canyon found under the Vanderford Glacier in Antarctica.(Supplied)

Trench indicates where glacier once stood

The 60km trench extending away from the glacier is likely to indicate where it once stood before melting.

“This immense canyon that we have found really just gives us a very clear indication of just how big this glacier was perhaps tens of thousands of years ago,” Mr Symons said.

The discovery was made by Australia’s new icebreaking ship, Nuyina, while testing cold water systems near the glacier and Australia’s largest research station, Casey.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley described the discovery as “stunning” and early proof that Nuyina’s acoustic technology was world leading.

“The Nuyina is demonstrating that Australia has opened the door to new levels of polar research that will help us unlock secrets of Southern Ocean maritime ecosystems, strengthen our reach inland and our understanding of the world’s climate,” Ms Ley said.

Large ship seen from above.
Expeditioners on Australia’s new icebreaking ship, Nuyina, made the discovery.(Australian Antarctic Division/Flying Focus)

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CLIMATE CHANGE WILL TURN COASTAL ANTARCTICA GREEN


Scientists have created the first ever large-scale map of microscopic algae as they bloomed across the surface of snow along the Antarctic Peninsula coast. Results indicate that this ‘green snow’is likely to spread as global temperatures increase.

ANTARCTICA: INVASIVE SPECIES ‘HITCHHIKING’ ON SHIPS


Species from around the world that are “hitching a lift” on ships threaten Antarctica’s pristine marine ecosystem.


Floyd Howard was one of the acoustics officers who mapped the canyon over a 24-hour period.

“We were using the multi-beam echosounders to map the ocean floor as we were in an area with limited charts,” Mr Howard said.

“The multi-beam sends out sound that bounces off the seabed and then it listens to the echoes — like a bat or a dolphin — and measures how long they take to return back to the ship.

“You would expect there to be a glacial trough in front of the glacier from when sea levels were lower, but we didn’t expect it to be so deep and so spectacular.”

The findings will now be shared with glaciologists and climate scientists who will be able to determine the impact this canyon is having on the glacier.

Source:

Henry Belot at ABC News



Antarctica: Invasive species ‘hitchhiking’ on ships

Antarctica: Invasive species ‘hitchhiking’ on ships


Species from around the world that are “hitching a lift” on ships threaten Antarctica’s pristine marine ecosystem.


That is the conclusion of a study tracking research, fishing and tourist vessels that routinely visit the protected, otherwise isolated region.

It revealed that ships from 1,500 ports around the globe visit Antarctica.

“These ships travel all around the world,” explained lead researcher Arlie McCarthy from the University of Cambridge.

“It means that almost anywhere could be a potential source for invasive species.” Those non-native species, she explained, “can completely change an ecosystem”.

“They can create entirely new habitats that would make it harder for those amazing Antarctic animals to find their own place to live.”

Penguins
Antarctica’s coasts are home to many endemic species that have been isolated for millions of years

The scientists say that more stringent measures are needed to ensure that ships do not bring species that could disrupt Antarctica’s fragile habitats.

The research team, from the British Antarctic Survey and the University of Cambridge, used satellite data and international shipping databases to work out the weight of Antarctic traffic – and the origin of those ships.

“What was really surprising was that they don’t just have one home port that they go back and forth to,” said Ms McCarthy.

Instead, the global movement of vessels links otherwise isolated parts of Antarctica to more than 1,500 ports all around the world.

Clinging on

Any marine species that can cling to the hull of the ship and survive the journey to Antarctica could pose an invasive threat.

Creatures, including mussels, barnacles, crabs and algae, are of particular concern, because they attach themselves to hulls, in a process termed “biofouling”.

'Biofouling' - marine organisms clinging to ships - can be seen here in a water discharge outlet on the hull of an Antarctic-going research vessel
‘Biofouling’ – marine organisms clinging to ships – can be seen here in a water discharge outlet on the hull of an Antarctic-going research vessel

Mussels, for example, can survive in polar waters and spread easily, threatening marine life on the seabed. Their water filtering alters the marine food chain and also the chemistry of the water around them.

“This is the last place in the world where we don’t have marine invasive species,” explained Ms McCarthy. “So we [still] have an opportunity to protect it.”

Professor David Aldridge from the University of Cambridge explained: “Antarctica’s native species have been isolated for the last 15-30 million years.”

This makes invasive species one of the biggest threats to its biodiversity. And, as Prof Lloyd Peck from the British Antarctic Survey added, “your chance of losing a species that is completely unique is much higher in the Antarctic”.

Tourist traffic

Tourism is regulated in the region; tourist ships have to follow biosecurity protocols. But this study revealed that tourism accounted for 67% of visits to Antarctic locations (followed by research, which accounted for 21% and fishing, 7%).

Researchers going ashore in Antarctica

According to the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, the 2019/20 season saw more that 70,000 people visit the region. And while the industry has been disrupted by the pandemic, that number has been increasing steadily since the first few hundred visitors from Chile and Argentina arrived in the South Shetland Islands in the 1950s.

It is an increase, say researchers, that has other consequences.

Ms McCarthy told BBC News: “Anywhere these ships go, we see other kinds of human impact on the environment, whether that is accidental release of waste, pollution, collisions with wildlife or noise disturbance.”

Prof Peck said Antarctic tourism was both “positive and negative”. “They are a big part of the number of visits [to the continent] and therefore could bring [non-native species] in.

“But the tour operators are very interested in the environment and take a lot of security measures.”

The British Antarctic Survey uses sniffer dogs to search for rats or mice aboard research vessels
The British Antarctic Survey uses sniffer dogs to search for rats or mice aboard research vessels

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CLIMATE CHANGE WILL TURN COASTAL ANTARCTICA GREEN


Scientists have created the first ever large-scale map of microscopic algae as they bloomed across the surface of snow along the Antarctic Peninsula coast. Results indicate that this ‘green snow’is likely to spread as global temperatures increase.

Ship paint fragments were found to make up most of the samples the scientists found - SWNS

SCIENTISTS STUDYING MICROPLASTICS IN ANTARCTICA DISCOVER… IT ALMOST ALL CAME FROM THEIR SHIP


Scientists studying the origins of microplastics in Antarctica have discovered that 89 per cent of the samples they analysed came from the paint on their own ship.


More broadly, biosecurity measures to protect Antarctica – such as cleaning ships’ hulls – are currently focused on a small group of recognised Antarctic “gateway ports”.

But since this study revealed that many more ports around the world are linked to the region, the British Antarctic Survey is calling for “improved biosecurity protocols” and environmental protection measures to protect Antarctic waters. This means inspecting ship hulls with cameras and cleaning them more frequently.

Prof Peck said this was particularly important “as ocean temperatures continue to rise due to climate change”. He added: “we know something will arrive if we leave things as they are”.

Source:

Victoria Gill at CNN



Antarctic Ice Shelf Could Collapse Within Five Years, Causing Dangerous Sea Level Rise

Antarctic Ice Shelf Could Collapse Within Five Years, Causing Dangerous Sea Level Rise


A crucial ice shelf in Antarctica is at risk of collapse within as little as five years, scientists at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union said on Monday.


The Thwaites Eastern Ice Shelf, which holds a third of the crucial Thwaites Glacier in place, has been weakening and has developed cracks, satellite images showed. If the glacier, which is about the size of Florida and the widest on Earth at 80 miles across, were to fall into the ocean, sea levels would rise over two feet. At its current melting rate, the glacier accounts for about four percent of annual global sea level rise.

“The cracks in the Antarctic ice shelf are similar to those in a car windshield, where a slowly growing crack reveals that the windshield is weak and a slight bump to the vehicle could prompt the windshield to immediately break apart into hundreds of pieces of glass, according to Oregon State University glaciologist Erin Pettit,” reported Emma Newburger of CNBC.

“This eastern ice shelf is likely to shatter into hundreds of icebergs,” said Pettit, as reported by The Washington Post. “Suddenly the whole thing would collapse.”

Warming ocean temperatures, due in part to climate change, caused the wearing away of the ice shelf. Its collapse wouldn’t cause global sea levels to rise right away, “But when the shelf fails, the eastern third of Thwaites Glacier will triple in speed, spitting formerly landlocked ice into the sea. Total collapse of Thwaites could result in several feet of sea level rise, scientists say, endangering millions of people in coastal areas,” Sarah Kaplan of The Washington Post reported.

“We are already on track for sea level rise in the next several decades that will impact coastal communities worldwide,” said Pettit, as reported by CNBC. “We can’t reverse this sea level rise, so we need to consider how to mitigate it and protect our coastal communities now.”

Research by Pettit and Ted Scambos, a University of Colorado Boulder glaciologist and lead principal investigator of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, shows that the ice shelf is losing its connection to the undersea mountain that’s been keeping it in place “against the ice river at its back. Even if the fractures don’t cause the shelf to disintegrate, it is likely to become completely unmoored from the seafloor within the next decade,” reported Kaplan.


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GREENLAND’S ICE SHEET IS MELTING SO FAST, IT’S RAISING SEA LEVELS AND CREATING GLOBAL FLOOD RISK


Greenland’s ice sheet, the biggest ice sheet in the world behind Antarctica, has melted so much in the past decade that global sea levels rose by 1 centimeter, and trends predict sea levels can rise nearly a foot higher by the end of the century.

NEW YORK HOPES TO AVOID THE WORST OF CLIMATE CHANGE WITH THEIR RESILIENCY PLAN


One of the most populated cities in the US is preparing for what may now be inevitable: submersion. New York city has started a huge climate resiliency project to try and avoid the mistakes of the past and protect itself against the extreme weather of the future.


“We’re watching a world that’s doing things we haven’t really seen before, because we’re pushing on the climate extremely rapidly with carbon dioxide emissions,” said Scambos, as reported by ScienceNews. “It’s daunting.”

If the ice shelf collapses, a process called ice cliff collapse, never before seen in Antarctica, may be instigated, “in which towering walls of ice that directly overlook the ocean start to crumble into the sea,” Kaplan reported.

According to Anna Crawford, a glaciologist at the University of St. Andrews, “if it started instantiating it would become self-sustaining and cause quite a bit of retreat for certain glaciers,” The Washington Post reported.

While Crawford’s models show a domino effect of that kind is possible, “it’s unlikely to happen in the immediate future,” she said.

“But what we’re seeing already is enough to be worried about,” Crawford said. “Thwaites is kind of a monster.”

Source:

Ecowatch



Scientists studying microplastics in Antarctica discover… it almost all came from their ship

Scientists studying microplastics in Antarctica discover… it almost all came from their ship


Scientists studying the origins of microplastics in Antarctica have discovered that 89 per cent of the samples they analysed came from the paint on their own ship.


The researchers had initially been shocked to find such large concentrations of microplastics in such a remote expanse of water in the Southern Ocean.

However, when they studied the samples in a laboratory they were able to confirm that a large percentage came from flakes of paint from their own vessel.

Microplastics are small plastic pieces, less than five millimetres long, and are known to be extremely harmful to ocean and aquatic life.

The team of researchers, from the University of Basel and the Alfred-Wegener Institute (AWI) at the Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, were studying water from the Weddell Sea.

Area where Endurance got trapped

It is the same area where, in 1915, Ernest Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, got trapped and crushed by pack ice.

Over the course of two expeditions with the research vessel Polastern during 2018 and 2019, the researchers took a total of 34 surface water samples and 79 subsurface water samples.

They then filtered about eight million litres of seawater and discovered microplastics in it – albeit in very small quantities.

Earlier studies of microplastics in Antarctica were conducted in regions with more research stations, shipping traffic and people, but this one solely focused on a remote body of water.

The research team, led by Professor Patricia Holm and Dr Gunnar Gerdts from the AWI, thought that the remote Weddell Sea would have substantially lower concentrations of microplastics.

Prof. Dr. Patricia Holm (left) and Clara Leistenschneider on the research vessel Polarstern - SWNS
Prof. Dr. Patricia Holm (left) and Clara Leistenschneider on the research vessel Polarstern – SWNS

However, their measurements showed that microplastic concentrations were only partially lower than in other regions in Antarctica.

Clara Leistenschneider, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Environmental Sciences, said: “Establishing that microplastics are present in a given region is one thing.

“But it’s also important to know which plastics appear, in order to identify their possible origin and in the best case to reduce microplastic emissions from these sources.”

In order to find out where these plastics came from, the team analysed the composition of the particles.

The team found that a significant proportion of the particles were in fact microplastics that were used as a binding agent in marine paint.

Other microplastic particles were identified as polyethylene, polypropylene and polyamides. These were used in packaging materials and fishing nets, among other things.

More than half of all the sample fragments were also visually similar to the ship paint on the vessel on which the team was travelling.


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HOW MUCH PLASTIC ARE YOU EATING?


What’s for dinner? Lego sushi, credit card burgers, or a well-done piece of PVC pipe? These examples may sound extreme, but can easily represent over time the cumulative amount of microscopic pieces of plastic we consume every day.


Identifying paint fragments

At the Centre for Marine Environmental Sciences (Marum) at the University of Bremen, the researchers analysed these fragments in more detail, by X-raying fluorescence (XRF) to identify pigments and fillers.

They were analysed in forensics, along with their plastic content, in a process normally used to identify cars in hit and run-type accidents.

In a circumstance like this one, paint slivers left at the accident site are the same as a vehicle’s fingerprints.

The analysis showed that 89 per cent of the 101 microplastic particles that were studied in detail came from the Polastern.

The remaining 11 percent came from other sources.

Ms Lesitenschneider added: “Developing alternative marine paint that is more durable and environmentally friendly would make it possible to reduce this source of microplastics and the harmful substances they contain.”

The findings were published in the journal Environmental Sciences and Technology.

Source:

Will Bolton at Yahoo! News