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Microplastics Have Been Found in Antarctic Snow for the First Time

Scientists have found microplastics in the freshly fallen snow of Antarctica for the first time in history.

Microplastics, tiny plastic particles smaller than a grain of rice, have previously been found in Antarctic sea ice and surface water, but this is the first time they have been reported in a fresh snowfall. According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, microplastics are spiralling around the globe, often being carried by dust, wind and ocean currents. Plastic particles have been detected even in extreme places such as the summit of Mount Everest and the depths of the oceans.

The new research on plastic pollution has been conducted by Alex Aves, a PhD student at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Aves collected 19 samples from the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica to see whether microplastics in the atmosphere had been transferred into the snow.  Dr Laura Revell, who supervised the research, said that they had been optimistic that she wouldn’t have found any plastic particles in such a pristine and remote location. However, microplastics were found in all of the samples collected. According to Aves, the findings of the research highlight the extent of plastic pollution in even the world’s most remote regions.

The researchers identified 13 different types of plastics, with the most common being polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This kind of plastic is mostly used in soft-drink bottles and clothing and was found in 79% of the samples. An average of 29 microplastic particles have been found per litre of melted snow, a number higher than those that have been previously found in Antarctic sea ice and water.

The most likely source of the microplastics found in the snow is local scientific research stations, writes Aver in the journal The Cryosphere, where the research has been published. However, they could also have come from up to 6,000 kilometres (3,700 miles) away through the air.

Antarctica New Zealand environmental advisor Natasha Gardiner said that the knowledge gained from the research could be used to reduce plastic pollution at its source and inform their broader environmental management practices.

Plastic pollution has a number of harmful environmental and biological effects. According to Revell’s research, microplastics in the atmosphere contribute to climate change by trapping radiation released from the Earth. Scientists say that dark-coloured microplastics on icy surfaces are especially harmful, as they could absorb sunlight and increase local warming.


Plastic particles can also negatively affect human health as microplastics are inhaled and ingested by humans via air, water and food. A study by Hull York Medical School and the University of Hull found that high levels of ingested microplastics in the human body could potentially cause cell death and allergic reactions.

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