German scientists discover microplastics in Alpine and Arctic ice

17 Août, 2019, 04:30 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau
  • While there’s growing concern about the environmental impact of microplastics scientists have yet to determine what effect if any the minute particles have on humans or wildlife

Scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute use the board helicopter from the icebreaking research vessel Polarstern to collect snow samples. On average, the researchers found 1800 microplastic particles per liter in snow from Arctic ice sheets.

"We really need to know what effects microplastics have on humans, especially if inhaled with the air that we breathe", Bergmann said.

A team of experts from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) has now found that microplastic particles can apparently be transported over tremendous distances by the atmosphere and are later washed out of the air by precipitation, particularly snow.

Frigid terrain on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, where researchers recently documented microplastic pollution in falling snow. This mechanism implies that there is no place on Earth - no matter how remote and inhospitable - that is spared from microplastic pollution.

Unlike more inland regions, Svalbard is quite isolated and mostly frozen, making it unclear how this huge abundance of plastic bits made its way to the remote location. We've got plastics in the ocean and on the beaches.

The scientists of the AWI had taken samples from Helgoland, an island in the North Sea, the German federal states of Bremen and Bavaria, the Swiss Alps as well as from the Arctic.

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Microplastics are plastic fragments less than 5 millimeters in size.

Previously, research groups have found plastics in the atmospheric fallout of Dongguan, China, Tehran in Iran, and Paris, France.

Microplastics can be found in seawater, marine sediment and the organisms that digest it. According to Melanie Bergmann: "This additional transport route could also explain the high amounts of microplastic that we've found in the Arctic sea ice and the deep sea in previous studies". It may not have felt like that to us here in the Caribbean, but the detection of minute microplastic particles in the Arctic and the Alps, reported this week, should have jolted us enough to keep our eyes focussed on what is happening to the environment around us.

Varnish and rubber particles were among the most abundant types of plastics the researchers found.

Near a rural road in Bavaria, the samples contained various types of rubber, which they say likely came from vehicle tyres.

"The whole chain of plastic processing from production to waste disposal is estimated to eat 14 percent of the carbon budget that we have left until 2050 if growth continues as it has in recent years", she said.

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