Svalbard, a Norwegian island located halfway between the Nordic nation and the North Pole, is renowned for its rugged beauty as well as its isolation from the rest of the world. Visitors and the approximately 2,400 inhabitants of Longyearbyen may take in the harsh landscape around the fjord known as Adventfjorden from the village’s viewpoint.
The beauty of this Arctic inlet, on the other hand, hides more messed-up, tiny secrets.
Despite the fact that “people perceive this beautiful, clean, white landscape,” according to Claudia Halsband, a marine biologist in Tromso, Norway, “that’s just half of the storey,” she said.
The fjord is plagued by a significant amount of microscopic garbage, namely microfibers, which are a squiggly subgroup of microplastics that peel off synthetic textiles. Peter S. Ross, an ocean pollution expert who has researched the plastic polluting the Arctic, says microfibers are showing up everywhere, and researchers are beginning to recognize that sewage is a major contributor to their spread, according to his study. Longyearbyen, a small town on the Arctic Circle, produces an astonishing quantity of microfibers in its sewage, despite the fact that the exact effect on ecosystems is still up for dispute. It has been discovered that the little town of thousands emits nearly the same amount of microplastics as a wastewater treatment facility in Vancouver that serves around 1.3 million people, according to a recent research.
The findings, which were published this summer in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science, highlight the hidden impacts that Arctic communities can have on surrounding waters, as well as the important microfiber emissions that can be produced by even small populations owing to untreated sewage. The findings also highlight the importance of water quality monitoring in Arctic communities.
A underwater conduit, jutting into the fjord like an arm twisted at the elbow, transports the microfibers from Adventfjorden to other parts of the world. It spits out the untreated sewage from the neighborhood, including urine and faces, as well as mush that has been shoved down kitchen drains and suds from showers and washing machines. Small or remote communities all around the globe deal with sewage in a variety of methods, ranging from storing it in septic tanks to using composting latrines as a last resort. In Longyearbyen, waste is mixed in a single pumping station that is little larger than an outhouse before squelching to the fjord via tunnels that snake their way through the frozen ground.
Because Dr. Halsband and his colleagues were interested in trash that was not immediately visible to the naked eye, they collected wastewater samples for microfibers over a period of one week in June and September 2017, and then modelled how the tiny bits might float around the fjord during the summer of 2017.
According to Dorte Herzke, principal author of the study and a scientist at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research, “it wasn’t as stinky as we were worried it would be, but there were floaters.”
The samples were filtered and sorted after the researchers returned to the lab. Due to a lack of technology capable of distinguishing between synthetic and organic fibres, the crew rejected everything transparent or white that seemed to be cellulose. Despite this, dozens of fragments persisted, including dark hues that were presumably derived from outdoor clothing — particularly in the September samples, which were taken “when the hunters start to appear” and wrap up, according to Dr. Herzke. (Earlier study discovered that clothing such as synthetic fleece had a tendency to lose microfibers when washed in a washing machine.)
This past summer, the researchers went to the fjord to gather samples to test the model’s predictions against the real world. Those samples are now being stored in a freezer and will be submitted to a chemical examination shortly after.