• Plastic Pollution Found at the Mariana Trench

Waste Management

Plastic Pollution Found at the Mariana Trench

Jan 16 2019

Plastic pollution has permeated throughout our oceans and now reaches even the deepest point on Earth, according to new research from the Institute of Deep Sea Science and Engineering in China. The Mariana Trench, which at its lowest point is 11,000m below sea level, was found to contain alarmingly high concentrations of plastic in its water and even more concerning results among the sea floor sediment.

The study demonstrates the lengths and depths to which our damaging obsession with plastic has reached and provides further fuel to the argument for humankind to curb its wasteful habits. Given that the Mariana Trench showed the highest concentrations of plastic yet found in the open ocean, it should certainly serve as a wakeup call for the need to urgent action and reform.

Plumbing the depths

The study, published in the journal Geochemical Perspectives Letters in November last year, analysed samples taken from sediment and water at depths between 2,500m and 11,000m below sea level. The Mariana Trench represents the deepest place on Earth; by comparison, Mt Everest climbs to 8,848m above sea level, so the trough of the Trench is even further away from the surface of the water.

Even here, it was found that plastic had polluted in alarming quantities. There were found to be approximately 13 pieces of plastic litter in bottom water samples - several times higher than the concentrations found in other parts of the open ocean. What’s more, the sediment scraped from the bottom of the Trench revealed up to 2,200 pieces of litter per litre, which is substantially more than other locations.

Reaching far and wide

It’s thought that the Mariana Trench may be especially susceptible to pollution due to its geographical shape. As a V-shaped chasm, it can act as a vacuum which sucks in sinking particles and traps them there. The prevalence of earthquakes in the region can also exacerbate the situation by shaking resting plastic free and submerging it to the bottom of the canyon’s depths.

The Mariana Trench is not the only remote location which our plastic habit has corrupted. In 2017, researchers discovered that plastic pollution had permeated to the Arctic, while a study last year even found litter in the peaks of the Swiss Alps. Its ability to endure in the environment, coupled with its damaging effects on animal life, make it a serious concern for eco-systems the world over.

Concerning consequences

“Manmade plastics have contaminated the most remote and deepest places on the planet,” said the team behind the research. “The hadal zone is likely one of the largest sinks for microplastic debris on Earth, with unknown but potentially damaging impacts on this fragile ecosystem.” Animals which ingest the contaminants can become ill and die, as well as potentially corrupt the entire food chain when they themselves are consumed by bigger predators.

With that in mind, the scientific community has been exploring a range of options to limit and reverse the terrible plight of plastic pollution in our seas and oceans. One such innovative venture from the University of Staffordshire in England sees the unlikely marriage of forensic science with artificial intelligence, as researchers seek to create more advanced monitoring and modelling systems on the behaviour of underwater contaminants.


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