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Microplastics Abound in Arctic Snow

Scientists say air is carrying particles to remotest corners of the world
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 15, 2019 4:06 AM CDT
A bowhead whale in the Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard.   (Kit M. Kovacs, Christian Lydersen/Norwegian Polar Institute via AP)
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(Newser) – Scientists say they've found an abundance of tiny plastic particles in Arctic snow, indicating that so-called microplastics are being sucked into the atmosphere and carried long distances to some of the remotest corners of the planet. The researchers examined snow collected from sites in the Arctic, northern Germany, the Bavarian and Swiss Alps, and the North Sea island of Heligoland with a process specially designed to analyze their samples in a lab, the AP reports. "While we did expect to find microplastics, the enormous concentrations surprised us," says Melanie Bergmann, a researcher at the Alfred-Wegener-Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany. Their findings were published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances. Previous studies have found microplastics—which are created when man-made materials break apart—in the air of Paris, Tehran, and Dongguan, China.

Bergmann, who co-authored the study, says the highest concentrations of microplastics were found in the Bavarian Alps, with one sample having more than 150,000 particles per 1 liter. Although the Arctic samples were less contaminated, the third-highest concentration in the samples the researchers analyzed—14,000 particles per liter—came from an ice floe in the Fram Strait off eastern Greenland. Bergmann says the microplastics detected in the study included varnish that may have been used to coat cars and ships, rubber found in tires, and materials that could have originated in textiles or packaging. The research demonstrated the fragments may become airborne in a way similar to dust, pollen, and fine particulate matter from vehicle exhausts. 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.

(Read more microplastics stories.)

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