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Is the Arctic a Pristine Environment?

The Arctic conjures up images of purity: white snow, cool air and a pristine landscape. But like seemingly everywhere else on Earth, the Arctic has been tarnished by pollution, although it's not immediately apparent to the naked eye. Researchers landed on ice floes in the Northwest Passage and sunk drills into four locations that they presumed would be relatively untouched by drifting plastic pollution. They were wrong. Brice Loose, the group's chief scientist, said they were stunned by what they found in the ice cores. "The plastic just jumped out in both its abundance and its scale,” he said. Plastic filaments and beads of all sizes and shapes put a damper on the expedition. According to the United Nations, the world's oceans currently contain approximately 100 million tons of plastic, and the problem is worsening.

In a separate study, German and Swiss researchers identified microplastic particles in Arctic snowfall. The particles had presumably traveled great distances through the air. Snow collected from Norway's Svalbard archipelago contained 14,400 particles of plastic per liter.

Some cold, hard facts about the Arctic:

  • Besides the Arctic Ocean, the Arctic includes parts of the United States, Canada, Russia, Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland.
  • About 4 million people call the Arctic region home, including the indigenous Inuit people.
  • Norway has built a storage facility in the Arctic that contains seeds for more than 4,000 species of plants.
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