The Arctic Ocean as a dead end for floating plastics in the North Atlantic branch of the Thermohaline Circulation

Andrés Cózar, Elisa Martí, Carlos M. Duarte, Juan García-de-Lomas, Erik van Sebille, Thomas J. Ballatore, V. M. Eguíluz, J. Ignacio González-Gordillo, Maria L. Pedrotti, Fidel Echevarría, Romain Troublè, Xabier Irigoien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

426 Scopus citations


The subtropical ocean gyres are recognized as great marine accummulation zones of floating plastic debris; however, the possibility of plastic accumulation at polar latitudes has been overlooked because of the lack of nearby pollution sources. In the present study, the Arctic Ocean was extensively sampled for floating plastic debris from the Tara Oceans circumpolar expedition. Although plastic debris was scarce or absent in most of the Arctic waters, it reached high concentrations (hundreds of thousands of pieces per square kilometer) in the northernmost and easternmost areas of the Greenland and Barents seas. The fragmentation and typology of the plastic suggested an abundant presence of aged debris that originated from distant sources. This hypothesis was corroborated by the relatively high ratios of marine surface plastic to local pollution sources. Surface circulation models and field data showed that the poleward branch of the Thermohaline Circulation transfers floating debris from the North Atlantic to the Greenland and Barents seas, which would be a dead end for this plastic conveyor belt. Given the limited surface transport of the plastic that accumulated here and the mechanisms acting for the downward transport, the seafloor beneath this Arctic sector is hypothesized as an important sink of plastic debris.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e1600582
JournalScience advances
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 19 2017

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: Tara Oceans particularly acknowledges the commitment of the following sponsors: the CNRS (in particular Groupement de Recherche GDR3280), the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Genoscope/CEA, French Government “Investissements d’Avenir” programs OCEANOMICS (ANR-11-BTBR-0008) and FRANCE GENOMIQUE (ANR-10-INBS-09-08), Agence Nationale de la Recherche, and European Union FP7 (Micro B3 no. 287589). We appreciate the support and commitment of agnès b. and E. Bourgois, Veolia Environment Foundation, Region Bretagne, Lorient Agglomeration, World Courier, Illumina, Eléctricité de France Foundation, Fondation pour la recherche sur la biodiversité, Prince Albert II de Monaco Foundation, Tara Foundation, its schooner, and its teams. We are also grateful to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs for supporting the expedition and to the countries that granted sampling permissions. Tara Oceans would not exist without continuous support from 23 institutes ( This article is contribution number 52 of Tara Oceans. This study is funded by Tara Oceans and the Malaspina 2010 Expedition project (Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, CSD2008-00077) and has received additional support from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology through baseline funding to X.I. and C.M.D., Campus de Excelencia Internacional del Mar (CEIMAR), and PLASTREND (BBVA Foundation) and MIDaS (CTM2016-77106-R, AEI/FEDER/UE) projects.


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