Microplastics Found in the Arctic

Aug 15, 2019

According to the New York Post, scientists say they have found an abundance of microplastics in the Arctic snow. This is newsworthy, because it is a clear indication that these tiny plastic particles are being sucked right into the atmosphere and then carried very long distances. Distances that span the far corners of earth.

The researchers gathered and examined snow from the Arctic, as well as northern Germany, the Bavarian and Swiss Alps, and the North Sea island of Heligoland. They expected to find microplastics, but the "enormous concentrations surprised us," said Melanie Bergmann, who is a researcher in Germany.

Maybe you are asking, what are microplastics? They are created when man-made materials break apart and are defined as pieces of plastic that are smaller than 5 millimeters. And this isn't the first time microplastics have been found and studied. Previously they were found in Paris, Tehran, and Dongguan, China.

This new research suggests that the fragments may become airborne, similarly to dust and pollen. There is a growing concern about the impact microplastics have on the environment, but scientists have yet to determine to what effect, if any, the particles have on the wildlife or on humans.

The high concentrations of microplastics may be partly attributed to the methods the researchers used in gathering the data, according to Martin Wagner, who is a biologist, but was not involved with the study. He raises this point, because this study allowed for microplastics as small as 11 micrometers to be included, which is less than the width of a human hair. So, very thin. "This is significant because most studies so far looked at much larger microplastics," Wagner said. "Based on that, I would conclude that we very much underestimate the actual microplastics levels in the environment."

Wagner also points to how snow may be an important reservoir for storing microplastics and releasing it during snow melt, which has not been looked at before. This is something to keep in mind, since snow caps around the world are melting and potentially releasing microplastics into the air.

If you find this interesting, you can read the whole story here.