Microplastics, which are plastic particles smaller than a grain of rice, have been discovered for the first time in freshly fallen Antarctic snow, according to scientists, and have the potential to influence climate change by speeding up ice melting.
The research, which was just published in the journal The Cryosphere, reveals a major threat to the Antarctic region.
Microplastics have been proven to have significant effects on environmental health, limiting growth, reproduction, and general biological activities in creatures, as well as having harmful consequences for humans, according to previous research.
Alex Aves, a PhD student at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury, collected snow samples from the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica in late 2019.
There had been few investigations into the prevalence of microplastics in the air at the time, and the researchers stated it was unclear how prevalent the problem was.
“We were hopeful that Alex would find no microplastics in such a clean and remote location when she traveled to Antarctica in 2019,” said Laura Revell, Associate Professor at the University of Canterbury.
When the researchers returned to the lab, they discovered that plastic particles were present in every sample taken from the Ross Ice Shelf’s remote locations, indicating that the discoveries will have worldwide implications.
“Finding microplastics in new Antarctic snow is really sad, but it demonstrates the breadth of plastic contamination into even the most distant corners of the earth,” Aves said.
“We collected snow samples from 19 locations around the Ross Island region of Antarctica and detected microplastics in every single one of them,” she continued.
The presence of microplastic particles in the air has the potential to alter climate on a larger scale, according to the researchers, by speeding up the melting of snow and ice.
To determine the type of plastic particles contained in snow samples, Aves used a chemical analysis technique. The color, size, and shape of the plastic particles were all examined under a microscope.