Microplastics found in Antarctic snow for the first time

The researchers say finding microplastics in fresh Antarctic snow highlights the extent of plastic pollution into the remotest regions of the world

June 17, 2022 by Sandipan Talukdar
Microplastics in Antarctica

Even Antarctica is not free from plastics. A recent report says that microplastics have been found for the first time in freshly fallen snow in Antarctica. This will be a factor in accelerating the melting of snow and ice, which will again threaten the fragile and unique ecosystem of the continent. Notably, microplastics (tiny plastic that are even smaller than a grain of rice) were found in Antarctica previously as well, but in the sea ice and surface water. This time, microplastics have been found in fresh snowfall, which is worrisome.

The findings were published in the journal ‘The Cryosphere’ and the research was conducted by Alex Aves and Dr. Laura Revell of University of Canterbury. The researchers collected snow samples from the Ross ice shelf during late 2019 only to analyze whether the microplastics came from the atmosphere and got transferred into the snow. They also collected samples of snow from Scott Base and the McMurdo Station roadways. These are the locations where microplastics were reported earlier.

“We were optimistic that she would not find any microplastics in such a pristine and remote location,” commented Laura Revell on their early expectations of the study. Revell also thought that at the most , they would have some microplastic in the samples where it was detected earlier.

To the surprise of the researchers, plastic particles were there in all the 19 samples collected from the Ross Ice Shelf. “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 commented.

It is worth mentioning that plastic pollution has been detected at the top of the Mount Everest and in the depths of oceans. People unknowingly breathe and consume these micro plastic particles which affect health. In a recent study, it was shown that microplastics cause damage to human cells. In fact, microplastics in the air are also surging in recent times, and it is bound to adversely impact human health in future.

Aves and the researchers found that there were 29 microplastic particles per liter of melted snow. Notably, this amount is higher than the concentration of microplastics found in marine water. The samples collected by researchers from the nearest places of the scientific bases at Ross Island, Scott Base and McMurdo Station have larger concentration of the microplastics in comparison to the samples collected from remote areas.

Interestingly, the researchers found that PET is the most common plastic in the samples. They found a total of 13 plastic types. PET is most commonly used in soft drink bottles, and also clothing.

The researchers say that the plastic particles could have traveled thousands of kilometers in the air and fallen down with snow, or else, the human presence in the continent has established the footprints of these microplastic particles.