Plastic waste starts off as recognizable larger items, like bottles or packaging, but breaks down into progressively smaller pieces. These pieces eventually degrade into tiny fragments called microplastics. We already know that microplastics are transported by rivers into the oceans on a global scale. Researchers uncovered that’s not the only way for microplastics to contaminate the environment—microplastics are so minuscule they can be lofted into the atmosphere and travel on atmospheric rivers until they are deposited far away, sometimes in the wilderness.
A new study released earlier this week examined samples from a remote mountain area—the French Pyrenees. Researchers sampled over five months and found microplastics. About 250 fragments per square meter a day in the pristine, sparsely-inhabited mountains.
Previous studies examined airborne microplastics in the heavily-populated areas of Paris, France and Dongguan, China, but no one had examined microplastics in remote areas. The Pyrenees are considered relatively pristine wilderness because of the lack of development and distance from major population areas. They are so remote, in fact, that the scientists were not able to sample as often as they wanted to because of tough weather conditions and low accessibility. Regardless, they were able to collect enough samples to determine daily rates of microplastics landing in the Pyrenees.
The researchers wanted to know if microplastics were present, and if so, what quantity, size, shape and plastic type were landing in the mountains. They also examined plastics settling out of the atmosphere as well as plastics being deposited during rain events, where water droplets or snow would collect plastic in the air as they fell out of the sky.
The researchers performed a trajectory analysis to determine where the airborne microplastics came from. They found that the microplastics can travel the atmosphere at least 95 km before landing. In other words, far enough to be moved from more populated areas to remote wilderness. Further research is needed to see the maximum distance microplastics can travel, especially since particles of a similar size are usually able to travel thousands of kilometers. In fact, the researchers noted that orange dust was often present in winter samples, which is dust from the Saharan desert.
The researchers found fragments smaller than 300 micrometers up to 750 micrometers in length. Not only did 249 fragments land in a square meter, but they found other types of microplastics, including 73 films and 44 fibers deposited every day within a square meter. Intensity, rather than duration, of rainfall or snow events were more important to the amount of microplastics deposited.
The previous studies on microplastics in Paris and Dongguan were focused solely on microplastic fibers. When comparing just the fibers between the Pyrenees and the megacity areas, there was a lower but comparable amount of fibers. The Paris megacity study did include counts lower than that of the Pyrenees, but this may be due to the greater amounts of precipitation in the Pyrenees, that would capture microplastic particles in the area and deposit them in the mountains.
Microplastics are a global problem. They are particularly invasive because microplastics can be too small to see with our own eyes, so we may not even be aware of how often we are producing and shedding microplastics. Moving forward, we will need to know how exposure to microplastics impacts human health, in addition to the health of the ecosystems we rely on.
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Microplastics have a strong association with blocked rivers and chocking oceans. Now, thanks to a brand-new research study, we understand that microplastics can end up being air-borne and take a trip cross countries to land in beautiful wilderness.
Plastic waste starts as identifiable bigger products, like bottles or product packaging, however breaks down into gradually smaller sized pieces. These pieces ultimately break down into small pieces called microplastics. We currently understand that microplastics are transferred by rivers into the oceans on an international scale. Scientist revealed that’s not the only method for microplastics to infect the environment– microplastics are so tiny they can be lofted into the environment and travel on climatic rivers up until they are transferred far, often in the wilderness.
A brand-new research study launched previously today taken a look at samples from a remote mountain location– the French Pyrenees. Scientist tested over 5 months and discovered microplastics. About 250 pieces per square meter a day in the beautiful, sparsely-inhabited mountains.