Researchers ‘shocked’ by amount of plastic waste falling in Arctic as snow

Researchers recorded more than 10,000 particles per litre in some of their samples taken from the region’s Svalbard islands

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Researchers investigating the amount of plastic waste falling in the Arctic as snow have been shocked by what they have discovered.

Scientists at Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research and the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research said the sheer volume of microplastic particles they found in the region, which is often viewed as one of the last unpolluted parts of the planet, took them by surprise.

The researchers recorded more than 10,000 miscellaneous particles per litre in some of their samples taken from the region’s Svalbard islands.

They say the majority of particles found were made of natural materials like plant cellulose and animal hair but noted there were also fragments of car tyres, paint, varnish and synthetic fibres – microplastics made up an average of 12% of the particles discovered.

The scientists said most particles fell into the smallest size range, indicating large numbers of particles below the detection limit of 11 micrometres.

The report notes: “Microplastic concentrations in snow were very high, indicating significant contamination of the atmosphere. During its passage through the atmosphere, snow binds airborne particles and pollutants, which are eventually deposited on Earth’s surfaces,

“Large dust particles are transported over distances of 3,500 kilometres from the Sahara to the North Atlantic. This is similar to the distance between our Arctic sites and Europe, which happens to be the most important pathway in terms of wind-driven transport of mercury to the Arctic.”

Previous research shows microplastics are also falling from the sky onto the Pyrenees mountain range.