Story at a glance

  • Microplastics are tiny plastic particles less than 5 millimeters long.
  • New research published in One Earth shows microplastics were found just below the summit of Mount Everest.
  • Microplastics have been discovered in the deepest parts of the ocean, including in the Mariana Trench 36,000 feet below the surface of the sea, but this is the first time they’ve been discovered on Everest.

Microplastic pollution is everywhere, including near the summit of the highest mountain on Earth. 

New research based on a National Geographic expedition to Mount Everest last year details how microplastics — tiny plastic particles less than 5 millimeters long— were found in snow samples collected from several locations on the mountain, including just below the summit at approximately 27,000 feet at a spot known as the balcony. 


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Samples of snow collected on the mountain and in the valley below contained quantities of polyester, acrylic, nylon and polypropylene fibers, research published in One Earth reports. The materials are used to make outdoor clothing commonly used by climbers, as well as tents and ropes used to scale the summit. 

The highest concentrations of microplastics were found around the Base Camp, where climbers spend the majority of their time. Lower quantities of microplastics were found in streams leading down from the mountain to the Sagarmatha National Park. Researchers said this could be due to the continuous flow of water created by glaciers. 

Microplastics found closer to the summit may have been transported from lower altitudes by extreme winds, researchers said. 

“Over the past few years, we have found microplastics in samples collected all over the planet - from the Arctic to our rivers and the deep seas. With that in mind, finding microplastics near the summit of Mount Everest is timely reminder that we need to do more to protect our environment,” Imogen Napper, a National Geographic explorer and marine scientist from the University of Plymouth, said in a statement

Microplastics have been discovered in the deepest parts of the ocean, including in the Mariana Trench 36,000 feet below the surface of the sea, but this is the first time they’ve been discovered on Everest. The plastic pollution poses an ecological threat as aquatic life and birds can mistake microplastics for food.


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Published on Nov 20, 2020