Microplastics in Antarctica

Microplastics in Antarctica

News: Scientists have found Microplastics - plastic pieces smaller than a grain of rice in freshly fallen Antarctic snow for the first time, which can influence the climate by accelerating melting of ice.

Key Findings:
• Researchers gathered samples of snow from 19 different sites in the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica and discovered plastic particles in all of them.
• There were 13 different types of plastic found, with the most common being PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate), commonly used to make soft drink bottles and clothing. The possible sources of microplastics were examined.
• 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.
• Microplastics may have travelled thousands of kilometres through the air, however it is likely that the presence of humans in Antarctica has established a microplastic 'footprint'.

What are implications of the recent findings?
• Microplastics can have harmful substances stuck on to their surfaces such as heavy metals, algae. So they can provide a way in which harmful species can make it into some remote and sensitive areas, that otherwise wouldn't get there.
• Humans inhale and ingest microplastics via air, water and food. High levels of ingested microplastics in the human body have the potential to cause harmful effects, including cell death and allergic reactions.
• Microplastics may also be increasing the impact of global warming. Snowfields, ice caps and glaciers around the world are already melting fast, and scientists say dark-coloured microplastics deposited at these locations can make things worse by absorbing sunlight and enhancing local heating. 

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