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Scientists find microplastics in Antarctic snow, indicating pollution reach

Researchers for the first time have discovered proof of microplastics in Antarctic snow, indicating a wider than previously known reach of microplastic pollution.

A study published in The Cryosphere scientific journal found that researchers confirmed the existence of microplastics in every snow sample they gathered from 19 different sites with “an average of 29 microplastic particles per litre of melted snow, which is higher than marine concentrations reported previously from the surrounding Ross Sea and in Antarctic sea ice,” according to a press release from the University of Canterbury.

Polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, a polymer found in beverage bottles, was detected in close to four-fifths of the snow samples, according to the study. 

Researchers believe that microplastics may have come from both long-range transport and local sources, including clothing that researchers and base staff wore and research station plastic equipment. 

The implications of the study are important because of the detrimental effects that microplastics can have on the environment, including biological function impairment, limited growth and negatively impacting reproduction.

“It improves our understanding of the extent of plastic pollution near to Scott Base and where it’s coming from,” Antarctica-New Zealand environmental adviser Natasha Gardiner said in a statement, referring to a New Zealand research station in the Antarctic. 

“We can use this information to reduce plastic pollution at its source and inform our broader environmental management practices.”

Tags Antarctica Microplastics

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