• Microplastics may have traveled 6,000 km or came from nearby research bases
  • The find "highlights the extent of plastic pollution into even the most remote regions of the world": research Alex Aves
  • Earlier this year, microplastics were found in human blood

Researchers have found what is said to be the first evidence of microplastics in fresh Antarctic snow. This shows the wide scope of these pollutants made of tiny plastic particulates.

Antarctica may be a remote area that's unique for being the only continent without permanent human habitation, but it seems that the impacts of human actions have reached it. In a new paper, published this week in the journal The Cryosphere, a team of researchers reported finding microplastics in fresh Antarctic snow for the first time.

"Microplastics have been recognized as widespread pollutants in the marine environment and are known to be damaging to terrestrial ecosystems, while their small size and relatively low density also allow them to become airborne and transported over large distances," the researchers wrote.

For their work, they collected snow samples from 19 sites in the Ross Island region in 2019. At the time, they weren't expecting to find microplastics in the samples, as the location is quite "pristine and remote," one of the study authors, Laura Revell of the University of Canterbury, said in the university news release.

However, the researchers actually found microplastics in all of the samples. In fact, they found an average of 29 microplastic particles per liter of melted snow. According to the University of Canterbury, this is even higher than the previously observed marine concentrations in Antarctic sea ice and Ross sea. The density was also three times higher in areas close to scientific bases.

They determined 13 types of microplastics. PET, usually used to make softdrink bottles and clothes, was the most commonly found polymer, noted the researchers.

When they looked at the possible sources, researchers found that the microplastics may have traveled up to 6,000 kilometers. Clothes and equipment used at research stations may also be a possible source.

"It's incredibly sad but finding microplastics in fresh Antarctic snow highlights the extent of plastic pollution into even the most remote regions of the world," Alex Aves of the University of Canterbury, also one of the researchers and the one who collected the samples said in the news release.

"Looking back now, I'm not at all surprised," Revell added. "From the studies published in the last few years we've learned that everywhere we look for airborne microplastics, we find them."

Indeed, a growing body of research on microplastics has been shedding light on just how much microplastics have proliferated in our environment. For instance, they have also been detected from the deep oceans to Mount Everest, noted the BBC.

Just this year, another team of researchers had "breakthrough results" when they found evidence of plastic pollution in human blood for the first time. There were also few studies about the presence of microplastics in the air.

While the exact impact of microplastics on human health remains unclear, there are concerns that its presence in the human body may have negative effects.

Microplastics may also be impacting global warming as the darker-colored particles of these pollutants enhance heating in slow fields, glaciers and ice caps, according to the BBC.

"The findings of this study highlight the global reach of plastic pollution and identifies the need for urgency in creating successful policy to reduce its extent and effects, both globally and locally," the researchers wrote. "While studies in the Antarctic region currently focus on marine microplastic pollution, future research and policy need to take a holistic approach to incorporate airborne and terrestrial impacts."

Representative image. Pixabay-Michal Jarmoluk