Climate change Warning: Microplastics found in fresh snow in Antarctica

Pollution is one of the main issues for organizations worldwide, as it has been increasing and brings with it many risks to humans. One of the factors that have helped the pollutant crisis the most is plastic waste, which has been found in living beings such as sharks or penguins, and even the human body, as well as on beaches and seas.

Microplastics, which have already been detected in the water and sea ice of Antarctica, can seriously influence climate change. On a large scale, they are capable of speeding up thawing and snow melting, according to the new report.

Microplastics in snow

The discovery, from researchers at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, joins a small collection of recent research on this type of plastic, which can be so small it’s invisible to the naked eye and derives both from the breakdown of pieces of larger plastic or intentionally produced this small, to create sand in toothpaste and sunscreen, for example.

The implications of the discovery range from health concerns to the added stress of climate change already being felt at the poles. The Canterbury group collected samples from 19 sites in Antarctica, including along the Ross Ice Shelf, the largest ice shelf in Antarctica, and found microplastics in every sample taken. The researchers found an average of 29 particles per liter of melted snow.

The finding reveals the threat posed by the increasingly recurrent presence of microplastics in places and living beings on the continent.

The study makes clear that these particles, which had previously been detected in Antarctic sea ice and water, have the potential to influence climate, as they could accelerate the melting of ice and snow on a large scale. Since 2019, researchers have collected different samples of fresh snow at 19 sites on remote Ross Island, located south of Antarctica. And that the samples, microplastics were found in all of them.

The scientists indicated that atmospheric models suggest that these tiny particles travelled thousands of kilometers through air currents, although they also consider that they are the product of the human presence in Antarctica.

“We’ve learned from studies published in recent years that wherever we look, we find airborne microplastics,” said Laura Revell, an environmental physicist at the University of Canterbury. Using microscope and chemical analysis techniques, the research identified the presence of 29 microplastic particles per liter of snow, which is a higher amount than previously reported in Antarctic sea ice.

In the vicinity of the Scott and McMurdo bases, on Ross Island, the density of microplastics was three times higher, detailed the University of Canterbury.

Where does all that plastic come from?

Atmospheric models suggest that they could have travelled through the atmosphere for thousands of kilometres. However, it is not ruled out that it comes from the human settlements of Antarctica. A hypothesis that gains strength as a result of the data obtained is that the scientific team found that the densities of microplastics were 3 times higher in the vicinity of the Scott and McMurdo scientific bases.

Once the dimension of the problem has been verified, it remains to analyze the possible solutions. New Zealand environmental authorities are urging the parties to the Antarctic Treaty to consider possible measures to reduce plastic pollution on the continent in the future. They have presented the results of this research for discussion at future Treaty consultative meetings.

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