“Punch in the gut” as scientists find micro plastic in Arctic ice

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This undated photo provided by the 'Helmholtz centre for polar and marine research the Alfred Wegener institute' shows snow samples from Tschuggen, Switzerland, locked and ready for transport to Davos. (AP)
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Scientists from the U.S.-led Northwest Passage Projectcarry boxes of ice cores drilled from the Canadian Arctic during an 18-day icebreaker expedition that took place in July and August 2019, in a still image taken from a handout video obtained by REUTERS on August 14, 2019.
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A scientist from the U.S.-led Northwest Passage Project saws an ice core drilled from the Canadian Arctic during an 18-day icebreaker expedition that took place in July and August 2019, in a still image taken from a handout video obtained by REUTERS on August 14, 2019.
Updated 15 August 2019

“Punch in the gut” as scientists find micro plastic in Arctic ice

  • The researchers said the ice they sampled appeared to be at least a year old and had probably drifted into Lancaster Sound from more central regions of the Arctic

LONDON: Tiny pieces of plastic have been found in ice cores drilled in the Arctic by a US-led team of scientists, underscoring the threat the growing form of pollution now poses to marine life in even the remotest waters on the planet.
The researchers used a helicopter to land on ice floes and retrieve the samples during an 18-day icebreaker expedition through the Northwest Passage, the hazardous route linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
“We had spent weeks looking out at what looks so much like pristine white sea ice floating out on the ocean,” said Jacob Strock, a graduate student researcher at the University of Rhode Island, who conducted an initial onboard analysis of the cores.
“When we look at it up close and we see that it’s all very, very visibly contaminated when you look at it with the right tools — it felt a little bit like a punch in the gut,” Strock told Reuters by telephone.
Strock and his colleagues found the material trapped in ice taken from Lancaster Sound, an isolated stretch of water in the Canadian Arctic, which they had assumed might be relatively sheltered from drifting plastic pollution

The team drew 18 ice cores of up to two meters in length from four locations, and saw visible plastic beads and filaments of various shapes and sizes. The scientists said the findings reinforce the observation that micro plastic pollution appears to concentrate in ice relative to seawater.
“The plastic just jumped out in both its abundance and its scale,” said Brice Loose, an oceanographer at the University of Rhode Island and chief scientist of the expedition, known as the Northwest Passage Project.
The scientists’ dismay is reminiscent of the consternation felt by explorers who found plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean’s Marianas Trench, the deepest place on Earth, during submarine dives earlier this year.
The Northwest Passage Project is primarily focused on investigating the impact of manmade climate change on the Arctic, whose role as the planet’s cooling system is being compromised by the rapid vanishing of summer sea ice.
But the plastic fragments — known as micro plastic — also served to highlight how the waste problem has reached epidemic proportions. The United Nations estimates that 100 million tons of plastic have been dumped in the oceans to date.
The researchers said the ice they sampled appeared to be at least a year old and had probably drifted into Lancaster Sound from more central regions of the Arctic.
The team plans to subject the plastic they retrieved to further analysis to support a broader research effort to understand the damage plastic is doing to fish, seabirds and large ocean mammals such as whales.
Funded by the National Science Foundation and the Heising-Simons Foundation in the United States, the expedition in the Swedish icebreaker The Oden ran from July 18 to Aug. 4 and covered some 2,000 nautical miles. 


China launches its first unmanned mission to Mars

Updated 25 July 2020

China launches its first unmanned mission to Mars

  • Probe expected to reach Mars in February
  • China to attempt landing on surface of Mars, deploy rover

WENCHANG, China: China successfully launched an unmanned probe to Mars on Thursday in its first independent mission to another planet, in a display of its technological prowess and ambition to join an elite club of space-faring nations.
China’s largest carrier rocket, the Long March 5 Y-4, blasted off with the probe at 12:41 p.m. (0441 GMT) from Wenchang Space Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan.
In 2020, Mars is at its closest to Earth, at a distance of about 55 million km (34 million miles), in a window of about a month that opens once every 26 months.
The probe is expected to reach Mars in February where it will try to land in Utopia Planitia, a plain in the northern hemisphere, and deploy a rover to explore for 90 days.
If successful, the Tianwen-1, or “Questions to Heaven,” the name of a poem written two millennia ago, will make China the first country to orbit, land and deploy a rover in its inaugural mission.
Since 1960, half of all the 50-plus missions to Mars including flybys had failed, due to technical problems. Only a handful attempted to land on the planet.
Challenges multiply for those attempting a landing — from ensuring a precise deceleration of the spacecraft to navigating the planet’s sometimes violent atmosphere.
“The mission must necessarily be challenging, and not be following in the footsteps of others completely,” Liu Tongjie, mission spokesman, told Reuters after the launch in an interview.
“This is an exploration project, so there will be no 100% assurance of success. If the mission is unsuccessful, or if there are problems, we will continue to push ahead, re-establish the project, and re-commit.”
China previously made a Mars bid in 2011 with Russia, but the Russian spacecraft carrying the probe failed to exit the Earth’s orbit and disintegrated over the Pacific Ocean.
Eight spacecraft — American, European and Indian — are currently either orbiting Mars or on its surface, with other missions underway or planned.
The United Arab Emirates launched a $200 million mission to Mars on Monday, an orbiter that will study the planet’s atmosphere.
The United States’ upcoming 2020 mission costs more than $2 billion.
Liu declined to give a cost estimate for China’s mission, but said expenses have been “very economical” when spread out over the six years since research and development began in 2014.

New Sino-US frictions?
The next US mission may be launched as soon as end-July. The probe will deploy a rover called Perseverance, the biggest, heaviest, most advanced vehicle sent to the Red Planet by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
NASA’s InSight is currently probing the interior of Mars on a plain called Elysium Planitia. Curiosity, a car-sized rover deployed by NASA, is studying soil and rocks in Gale Crater, searching for the building blocks of life.
Asked if Tianwen-1 would present new frictions with the United States, Liu told Reuters the Chinese mission is a scientific exploration project not to compete with anyone but cooperate with each other.
“From our point of view, Mars is large enough for multiple countries to explore and carry out missions,” Liu said in an interview, when asked if there was a chance the Chinese rover would meet with Curiosity and InSight.
China’s probe will carry 13 scientific instruments to observe the planet’s atmosphere and surface, searching for signs of water and ice.
“Scientists believe there was an ancient ocean in the southern Utopia Planitia. At a place where an ancient ocean and land meet, scientists hope to make a lot of discoveries,” Liu said.