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Microplastics found in Antarctica

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    14th Jun, 2022


Scientists have found microplastics — plastic pieces much smaller than a grain of rice — in freshly fallen Antarctic snow for the first time.


  • 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 Microplastics?

  • Microplastics are tiny bits of various types of plastic found in the environment.
  • The name is used to differentiate them from “macroplastics” such as bottles and bags made of plastic.
  • There is no universal agreement on the size of microplastics. It defines microplastic as less than 5mm in length.

  • However, for the purposes of this study, since the authors were interested in measuring the quantities of plastic that can cross the membranes and diffuse into the body via the bloodstream.
  • Hence they agreed on an upper limit on the size of the particles as 0.0007 millimetre.

Threats posed by Microplastics

  • Microplastics have the potential to influence the climate by accelerating melting of ice.
  • They limit growth, reproduction, and general biological functions in organisms, as well as humans.

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