Research, published in Science Advances, reports on the quantities of micro plastic found in Arctic snow, and snow found in European cities.
Dr Stefan Reis, Head of Atmospheric Chemistry and Effects, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), said:
“This study highlights a potential ‘missing link’ in our understanding of the fundamental pathways of how microplastics are distributed in our environment. Similar findings from remote areas in the US1 and France2 suggest that long-range airborne transport of microplastics plays a vital role in contamination reaching locations far away from the sources (e.g. urban areas or agricultural land where microplastics-containing sewage sludge is spread). The results presented in this study suggest as well, that the amounts arriving to our local soils and surface waters closer to such sources might be considerable, but is so far widely unknown. With mounting evidence of this contamination, comprehensive research into the source strengths of microplastics emissions both in the built and natural environment, and modelling studies to quantify the dispersion are needed. In the same way as we model the regional and global atmospheric transport and chemical transformation of fine particulate matter, model assessments of airborne transport of microplastics is needed to identify areas at risk from contamination, and could inform strategies to reduce emissions of microplastics in the first place.”
(1) It is raining plastic Open-File Report 2019-1048 by: Gregory A. Wetherbee, Austin K. Baldwin, and James F. Ranville, https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20191048
(2) Atmospheric transport and deposition of microplastics in a remote mountain catchment by Steve Allen et al., Nature Geosciencevolume 12, pages339–344 (2019), https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0335-5
Prof Richard Lampitt, Leader of the Microplastic Research Team, National Oceanography Centre (NOC), UK said:
“This paper presents some important research findings about the widespread distribution of microplastic particles in snow. The conclusion is well founded that this reflects atmospheric transport, a mechanism which is poorly understood and demands further research. The large variability in both the concentrations and characteristics of the material collected does not have a close relationship with other measured variables such as wind speed which emphasises that the processes responsible for microplastic transport and transformation are very poorly understood.
“It is my view that if we are to make sensible decisions about how to deal with the issue of environmental plastic contamination, it is essential that we have a better understanding of the processes responsible for its distribution, transport and transformation.”
‘White and wonderful? Microplastics prevail in snow from the Alps to the Arctic’ by name of first author et al. was published in Science Advances at 19:00 UK time on Wednesday 14 August.
Dr Stefan Reis: I declare no conflict of interest and have not been involved in this study.
Prof Richard Lampitt: It is possible that I will work with Melanie Bergmann in the future and we are in the very early stages of discussion about being in a common funding proposal.