Science and TechPollution


Pollution Can Affect Even The Most Remote Ecosystems In Big Ways

Humans have only visited the Mariana Trench twice, but some creatures there show levels of pollutants consistent with highly industrialized areas.
Posted at 8:36 PM, Feb 13, 2017

Humans have visited the deepest part of our planet, the Mariana Trench, only twice: once in 1960, and again in 2012.

Yet the trench — a nearly 7-mile deep rift in the Pacific — appears to be pretty polluted. Some animals there have contamination levels similar to what you'd see in highly polluted industrial areas. They also contain toxins banned in the 1970s.

The pollutants seem to concentrate thanks to gravity and the food chain. As animals who were contaminated near the surface die and sink to the bottom, the toxins build up in the ecosystem.

The toxins are called Persistent Organic Pollutants. They can cause birth defects and developmental problems in both animals and people. The most infamous example of this type of toxin is probably the pesticide DDT.

The same kind of pollutants can be found on land, too. A 2016 study found that polar bears — already at risk because of melting arctic ice — were consuming the toxins through their mother's milk. 

Now, it's beginning to look like many remote ecosystems are becoming a sink for pollutants. Over time, these toxins seem to be concentrating in more remote areas of the globe.