At first glance, it looks like hard candy laced with flecks of fake fruit, or a third grader’s art project confected from recycled debris.
In reality, it’s a sliver of Arctic Ocean sea ice riddled with microplastics, extracted by scientists from deep inside an ice block that likely drifted southward past Greenland into Canada’s increasingly navigable Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
“We didn’t expect this amount of plastic, we were shocked,” said University of Rhode Island ice expert Alessandra D’Angelo, one of a dozen scientists collecting and analysing data during an 18-day expedition aboard the Swedish icebreaker Oden.
“There is so much of it, and of every kind — beads, filaments, nylons,” she told AFP from Greenland, days after completing the voyage.
Plastic pollution was not a primary focus of the Northwest Passage Project, funded by the US National Science Foundation and Heising-Simons Foundation.
Led by oceanographer Brice Loose, the multi-year mission is investigating how global warming might transform the biochemistry and ecosystems of the expansive Canadian Arctic Archipelago.