What are microplastics?
Plastic pollution is a phenomenon we all know about: we often hear frightening statistics and terrifying forecasts. One of them predicts that by 2050, the ocean will have a larger plastic mass than it will have fish . In addition, current events confirm scientists' fears about the impact of plastic on marine life. In November 2019, for example, a whale was found dead suffocated after ingesting 6 kg of plastic (115 plastic cups, four bottles, 25 plastic bags, two sandals and a nylon bag) .
Microplastic is the "invisible" part of plastic pollution. These are plastic particles less than 5 millimetres in size. Scientists have been studying this pollution since the 2000s. As a result, it is still very poorly understood and its impact remains uncertain. However, it is known that plastic, when it is in water, disintegrates into plastic microparticles and that some products - cosmetics for example - directly generate microplastics.
The impact of microplastic on wildlife is even greater than that of "larger" plastics because fish confuse it with food.
We assumed that thanks to the Antarctic circumpolar current around it, Antarctica was a protected area from this problem. However, a Greenpeace study conducted in 2018 seems to prove the opposite . Our expedition will be a way to verify this.
What will we study there?
For the study of microplastics, we will work with Greenpeace. We will receive from England 8 bottles of 2.5 litres specially disinfected and planned for the mission.
Once on the boat, we will have 8 samples to take: we will have to collect water from the sea surface in each bottle. Once full, the bottle will be stored in a black box so as not to alter the physical properties of the contents.
To collect the samples, we will have to go to four specific geographical locations, corresponding to the locations where the Arctic Sunrise - Greenpeace's oceanographic vessel - visited in February 2018. The samples will be coupled with geographical, meteorological and marine current data corresponding to the time and place of collection.
When we return to America, the samples will be sent to the University of Exeter, England, for analysis. Our data will be linked to the data retrieved from the Arctic Sunrise. With these data, we will be able to confirm or not the results - from the 2018 research - proving the presence of microplastics in Antarctica.
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