Microplastics found in Antarctica first time: Study


New Delhi: A new study published by the University of Canterbury has confirmed the discovery of microplastics in the fresh snow in Antarctica.

The study, “First evidence of microplastics in Antarctic snow” published in the scientific journal  The Cryosphere, brings light to a serious threat to the Antarctic.  

The study published has revealed the presence of microplastic plastic pieces much smaller than a grain of rice in freshly fallen Antarctic snow for the first time.

“It’s incredibly sad but finding microplastics in fresh Antarctic snow highlights the extent of plastic pollution in even the most remote regions of the world,”  said the Associate Professor in Environmental Physics Dr. Laura Revell.

“We collected snow samples from 19 sites across the Ross Island region of Antarctica and found microplastics in all of these,” she added

“Looking back now, I’m not at all surprised,” Associate Professor Revell says. “From the studies published in the last few years we’ve learned that everywhere we look for airborne microplastics, we find them.”

In late 2019, University of Canterbury Ph.D. student Alex Aves collected snow samples from the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica as part of Gateway Antarctica’s Postgraduate Certificate of Antarctic Studies. (Gateway Antarctica is the Centre for Antarctic Studies and Research at the University of Canterbury.)

At the time, there had been few studies investigating the presence of microplastics in the air, and it was unknown how widespread this problem was.

“When Alex traveled to Antarctica in 2019, we were optimistic that she wouldn’t find any microplastics in such pristine and remote locations,” Associate Professor in Environmental Physics Dr. Laura Revell says.

In addition to more remote sites, “we asked her to collect snow off the Scott Base and McMurdo Station roadways, so she’d have at least some microplastics to study.”

The report said,  once back in the lab, it quickly became obvious there were plastic particles in every sample from the remote sites on the Ross Ice Shelf too, and that the findings would be of global significance.

The paper found an average of 29 microplastic particles per liter of melted snow, which is higher than marine concentrations reported previously from the surrounding Ross Sea and in Antarctic sea ice.

Immediately next to the scientific bases on Ross Island, Scott Base, and McMurdo Station, the largest station in Antarctica, the density of microplastics was nearly 3-times higher, with similar concentrations to those found in Italian glacier debris.

 There were 13 different types of plastic found, with the most common being PET, commonly used to make soft drink bottles and clothing.

“The possible sources of microplastics were examined. “Atmospheric modeling suggested microplastics may have traveled thousands of kilometers through the air, however, it is equally likely the presence of humans in Antarctica has established a microplastic ‘footprint,'” the researchers say.

Antarctica New Zealand environmental advisor Natasha Gardiner has described this UC research as “of huge value.”

“Alex and her colleagues’ research enables Antarctic Treaty Parties to make evidence-based decisions regarding the urgent need to reduce plastic pollution in the future. It improves our understanding of the extent of plastic pollution near to Scott Base and where it’s coming from. We can use this information to reduce plastic pollution at its source and inform our broader environmental management practices,” she says.

“Importantly, this research project also informs policy at the international level, and we have submitted a paper on the findings to the forthcoming Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.” she added.



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