Over the past several years, microplastic particles have repeatedly been detected in seawater, drinking water, and even in animals. But these minute particles are also transported by the atmosphere and subsequently washed out of the air, especially by snow — and even in such remote regions as the Arctic and the Alps. This was demonstrated in a study conducted by experts at the Alfred Wegener Institute and a Swiss colleague, recently published in the journal Science Advances.
The fact that our oceans are full of plastic litter has by now become common knowledge: year after year, several million tonnes of plastic litter find their way into rivers, coastal waters, and even the Arctic deep sea. Thanks to the motion of waves, and even more to UV radiation from the sun, the litter is gradually broken down into smaller and smaller fragments — referred to as microplastic. This microplastic can be found in marine sediment, in seawater, and in marine organisms that inadvertently ingest it. In comparison, there has been little research to date on whether, and if so, to what extent, microplastic particles are transported by the atmosphere. Only a handful of works are available, e.g. from researchers who were able to confirm the particles’ presence in the Pyrenees and near major urban centres in France and China.