Our plastic research expedition — and my trip sponsored by Electrolux — has made its way north to the top of the Chilean fjords and we were just anchored safely in the Caleta Lamento del Indio, waiting to cross the turbulent Gulfo de Penas — the barrier between the northern and southern fjords. While anchored there I got a chance to help our on-board scientist Anna Rotander with some water sampling, and I found out that sometimes the best science is the simplest kind — read on to learn more!

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Anna’s system of sampling is simple, but she needs to take every precaution not to contaminate the water samples. Anna’s entire gathering operation consists of a bucket and some non-leeching storage bottles — the follow-up work is where the fancy equipment comes in. When she takes a sample, Anna simply throws the bucket over board — after sanitizing it — she then washes the bucket and the sampling bottles in the water that we are anchored in, fills the bucket with fresh sea water and then fills the bottles with the water. The samples will get filtered when we are back in dry land — and near a high voltage outlet — and she will bring those filters back to Sweden to be analyzed.

Anna’s post-gathering and analyzing equipment, I gather, is quite the opposite of her trusty bucket, and has the ability to detect, “very low levels of contaminants,” which is what she expects to find here. That equipment is safely back in Sweden in her laboratory and we’ll have to wait for the results until she returns home. It is hard to fathom, in the meantime, that tiny persistent organic pollutants (POPs) from plastics we use back home could find their way to this secluded inlet that has seen so little of humans — but Anna says she expects to find some level of POPs. She is certain that global currents allow the effects of our plastic pollution to touch all of the nooks and crannies of the ocean.

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Inhabitat Writer and Video Producer Brit Liggett was chosen by Electrolux to be a crew member on the latest 5 Gyres expedition. She is traveling along the southern coast of Chile helping the crew of the Sea Dragon study plastic pollution along the Chilean coastline. This post is sponsored by Electrolux