Microplastics discovered for the first time in freshly fallen snow in Antarctica Science and technology news


The cleanliness of the driven snow can no longer be taken for granted, according to new studies that have found microplastics in freshly fallen snow in Antarctica.

Tiny plastic particles, fragments of everyday objects, have been found in sea ice and water before – and even in human blood – but had never before been exposed in fresh snow.

The study, published in the journal The Cryosphere, highlights “the extent of plastic pollution worldwide” by identifying an average of 29 microplastic particles per liter of melted snow.

The concentration was even higher than had been reported in the surrounding Ross Sea and Antarctic sea ice.

Snow samples taken near the science bases in Antarctica revealed concentrations nearly three times higher, similar to those found in Italian glacial debris.

More than a dozen different types of plastic have been found, with PET, used to make beverage bottles, being the most common.

Alex Aves, a PhD student at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, collected the samples from the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica in late 2019.

At the time, her colleagues were “optimistic that she wouldn’t find microplastics in such a pristine and remote place,” says Dr. Laura Revell.

Ms. Aves was also asked to “collect snow from the roads at Scott Base and McMurdo Station so she has at least some microplastics to study,” added Dr. Revell added.

But they needn’t have bothered: “Back in the lab, it quickly became clear that plastic particles were also present in every sample from the remote locations on the Ross Ice Shelf and that the results would be of global importance.”

The snow samples were taken in Antarctica in 2019. Image: Bella Zeldis

Ms Aves said she was shocked by the findings: “It’s incredibly sad, but the discovery of microplastics in fresh Antarctic snow shows the scale of plastic pollution even in the most remote regions of the world.

“We collected snow samples from 19 sites in the Ross Island region of Antarctica and found microplastics in all of them.

“Looking back now, I’m not surprised at all,” added Dr. Revell added. “What we’ve learned from studies published over the last few years is that wherever we look for airborne microplastics, we’ll find them.”

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