Fitz Director, Peter Ryan joined the Arctic Century Expedition

7 Sep 2021 - 08:45
Photo credit: Jon Björgvinsson


Part of the terrestrial research team celebrate their last shore visit during the Arctic Century Expedition to the Russian Arctic, arranged to celebrate the centenary of Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI). The interdisciplinary expedition, which was arranged jointly by AARI, the Swiss Polar Institute and GEOMAR in Germany, arrived back in Murmansk on 6 September after a month-long cruise that took them to almost 83N.

Peter Ryan, third from right, was invited to join the expedition to study plastic pollution of the region, as well as documenting the region's birds and marine mammals. He conducted 158 hours of at-sea transects, covering a distance of 3125 km. The Little Auk was the most abundant of 22 bird species seen, with large concentrations over the deeper waters of the St Anna Trough between the Barents and Kara Seas.

Polar Bears were seen regularly on the sea ice of the eastern Kara Sea, and two groups of Bowhead Whales from the endangered Svalbard-Barents population were encountered.

The density of floating litter was more than 80 times greater than that recorded in the Southern Ocean during the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition in 2016/17. The highest concentration of litter was over the St Anna Trough, which is a major conduit for water from the north-east Atlantic into the Arctic Ocean. Over 2000 litter items were recorded at seven beaches sampled on Novaya Zemlya, Franz Josef Land, Severnaya Zemlya and two small islands in the central Kara Sea, Vize Island and Uyedineniya. The density of litter items was greatest at Vize Island, which lies squarely in the path of water from the north-east Atlantic Ocean. Litter manufactured in at least 19 countries was found, emphasising the importance of long-distance drift as well as illegal dumping from ships as major sources of pollution to the Arctic.