Microplastics can travel through the atmosphere and end up in regions far from their original emission source, reports a paper published online this week in Nature Geoscience.
Microplastics are very small pieces of plastic waste that have been found in rivers, oceans and pristine polar regions. Previous research has suggested that microplastics have reached oceans by traveling long distances along rivers, affecting aquatic ecosystems along the way. However, there is a lack of information about whether microplastic pollution can travel through the atmosphere.
Deonie Allen and colleagues studied a remote mountain catchment in the French Pyrenees over a period five months. They collected samples of atmospheric dry and wet deposits during five sample periods and found substantial amounts of microplastics, including plastic fragments, film and fibre debris. The authors measured the daily deposition rate of microplastics to be 365 particles per square metre.
Using atmospheric simulations, the authors showed that the microplastics were transported through the atmosphere from at least 100 kilometres away.
This study suggests that atmospheric transport can be an important pathway by which microplastics can reach and impact pristine regions.