Hello from Chile! Our plastic research expedition with the 5 Gyres Project has set sail in the Beagle Channel and is just coming up on the Magellan Strait. I’ve been chatting more with Anna Rotander, our on-board scientist, about her work — while we wait for the seas to calm so that she can take some water samples. Anna is part of a research facility that studies human and environmental exposure to fluorinated, chlorinated and brominated chemicals. Her lab does research on where these chemicals are found, in what quantities and also documents methodologies on how to record them accurately.
The crew of the Sea Dragon has been joking for the past two days that there’s a postcard worthy photo around every corner. We’re coming up upon the Sarmiento Glacier and will anchor there for a bit before continuing on into the night. It is supposed to be the most spectacular glacier in this area of Chile. While we wait for it to appear Anna and I have been chatting about her work. She is a researcher at the MTM Research Center at Orebro University in Orebro, Sweden and is here taking plastic samples to bring back to her laboratory in Sweden.
The chemicals we are looking for are, “extremely strong, they don’t break down and it gives them these unique properties. They are used in gore tex clothing, teflon pans, ski wax products, surfers use them. They’re also found in cleaning products and firefighting foam,” Anna said. “We want to see if we can find them in the plastic accumulation zones.” These persistent organic pollutants — or POPs — are everywhere but in larger density in the Northern Hemisphere where there is a larger human population and more industry.
Anna noted that because of the ocean’s currents these chemicals could be found anywhere in the world — even in a place like the Magellan Strait in Chile, where the population is tiny. By studying the presence of the chemicals in different areas, the lab can help to map the plastic, where it comes from, and how the ocean’s currents distribute it around the world. Anna has been on the Sea Dragon since it was docked in Periapolis in Uruguay, will continue with us to Valdivia, Chile, and will then return to Sweden with her refrigerator of plastic samples to analyze.
Anna and I are on the same “watch” — there are two watches that switch off crewing the boat and we’ve been talking quite a bit. I’m excited for our upcoming sampling extravaganza.
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