A new study has found that plastic particles are falling from the sky mixed in with snow in the Arctic, reported the BBC. The shocking results showed that around 10,000 microparticles of plastic are mixed in with every liter of snow.
In the study that was carried out by a German-Swiss team and published in the journal Science Advances, researchers collected snow samples from the Svalbard islands using a simple spoon and flask. The snow samples were then tested at a laboratory at Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven.
According to the scientists carrying out the study, it was a shock to find so many contaminating particles in the samples. While they also identified plant cellulose and animal fur particles, there was an overwhelming amount of plastic particles in addition to fragments of rubber tires, varnish, paint, and synthetic fibers.
Lead scientist Dr. Melanie Bergmann spoke to the BBC about the study’s findings.
“We expected to find some contamination but to find this many microplastics was a real shock. It’s readily apparent that the majority of the microplastic in the snow comes from the air.”
The scientist added that they are unsure if the plastics will be harmful to human health before cautioning that humans need to take much better care with the way they’re treating the environment.
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The researchers also attempted to understand how the microplastics were being transported to the Arctic. The most compelling explanation is that the tiny particles are swept about through wind and transported on air currents to the Arctic. The plastics are then washed to the ground through snow or rain.
Dr. Bergmann posed an important question when discussing the study with the news publication.
“We have to ask – do we need so much plastic packaging? Do we need all the polymers in the paints we use? Can we come up with differently designed car tires? These are important issues.”
The results of the study follow those of a previous report last year that found Arctic sea-ice to hold the highest concentration of plastic particles in the world. Plastic waste has also been making its way through the world’s oceans and washing up on the shores in the Arctic.
Those living in the Arctic reported feeling incredibly depressed with the results of the study, commenting that prior to discovering the presence of plastic particles, they believed that they were living in the last pristine environment on planet Earth.
A staff member at a dog sledding center near Tromsø in the Norwegian Arctic described her sadness for the BBC.
“Up here we see the beauty of it every day, and to see that it’s changing so much and being tainted – it hurts.”