Researchers have discovered microplastics in freshly fallen snow in Antarctica for the first time.
According to the study published in the scientific journal The Cryosphere on June 7, tiny plastic particles — smaller than a grain of rice — have previously been found in Antarctic sea ice and surface water but had never before been discovered in fresh snowfall until now.
University of Canterbury PhD Student Alex Aves collected 19 samples from Ross Ice Shelf in late 2019 and found that every one of them had plastic particles.
On average, Aves found 29 microplastic particles per liter of melted snow, which is higher than the marine concentrations previously reported from the surrounding Ross Sea and in Antarctic sea ice.
Samples taken from snow near the scientific bases on Ross Island, Scott Base, and McMurdo Station found concentrations nearly three times higher, similar to those found in Italian glacier debris, according to the study.
Aves found 13 different types of microplastics, the most common type being PET, which is used to make drinking bottles and clothing.
Aves said she was shocked by the findings.
“It’s incredibly sad but finding microplastics in fresh Antarctic snow highlights the extent of plastic pollution into even the most remote regions of the world,” Aves said.
“Looking back now, I’m not at all surprised. From the studies published in the last few years we’ve learned that everywhere we look for airborne microplastics, we find them,” Aves further said.
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