Norlie John Turqueza
Littering Arctic seafloor
Dec. 13, 2012 — Biologists record increasing amounts of plastic litter in the Arctic deep sea: studies confirm that twice as much marine debris is lying on the seabed today compared to ten years ago
The seabed in the Arctic deep sea is increasingly strewn with litter and plastic waste. As reported in the advance online publication of the scientific journal Marine Pollution Bulletin by Melanie Bergmann, a biologist and deep-sea expert at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association. The quantities of waste observed at the AWI deep-sea observatory HAUSGARTEN were even higher than those found, say, in a deep-sea canyon near the Portuguese capital Lisbon.
For this study Bergmann examined some 2100 seafloor photographs taken near HAUSGARTEN, the deep-sea observatory of the Alfred Wegener Institute in the eastern Fram Strait (the sea passage between Greenland and the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen). "The study was prompted by a gut feeling," Bergmann explains. "When looking through our images I got the impression that plastic bags and other litter on the seafloor were seen more frequently in photos from 2011 than in those dating back to earlier years. For this reason I decided to go systematically through all photos from 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2011."
The deep-sea scientists from the HGF-MPG Group for Deep-Sea Ecology and Technology of the Alfred Wegener Institute regularly deploy their towed camera system OFOS (Ocean Floor Observation System) during Polarstern expeditions to the HAUSGARTEN. At the central HAUSGARTEN station it is towed at a water depth of 2500 meters, 1.5 meters above the seabed, and takes a photograph every 30 seconds. Deep-sea biologists principally use these photographs to document changes in biodiversity with respect to larger inhabitants such as sea cucumbers, sea lilies, sponges, fish and shrimp. However,...