Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2021-385
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2021-385

  04 Jan 2022

04 Jan 2022

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

First evidence of microplastics in Antarctic snow

Alex R. Aves1,2, Laura E. Revell1, Sally Gaw1, Helena Ruffell1, Alex Schuddeboom1, Ngaire E. Wotherspoon1, Michelle LaRue2, and Adrian J. McDonald1,2 Alex R. Aves et al.
  • 1School of Physical and Chemical Sciences, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
  • 2Gateway Antarctica, School of Earth and Environment, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

Abstract. In recent years, airborne microplastics have been identified in a range of remote environments. However, data throughout the Southern Hemisphere, in particular Antarctica, are largely absent to date. We collected snow samples from 19 sites across the Ross Island region of Antarctica. Suspected microplastic particles were isolated and their composition confirmed using micro-Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (μFTIR).We identified microplastics in all Antarctic snow samples at an average concentration of 29 particles L−1, with fibres the most common morphotype and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) the most common polymer. To investigate sources, backward air mass trajectories were run from the time of sampling. These indicate potential long-range transportation of up to 6000 kilometers, assuming a residence time of 6.5 days. Local sources were also identified as potential inputs into the environment, as the polymers identified were consistent with those used in clothing and equipment from nearby research stations. This study adds to the growing body of literature regarding microplastics as a ubiquitous airborne pollutant, and establishes their presence in Antarctica.

Alex R. Aves et al.

Status: open (until 01 Mar 2022)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse

Alex R. Aves et al.

Alex R. Aves et al.

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Short summary
This is the first study to confirm the presence of microplastics in Antarctic snow, highlighting the extent of plastic pollution globally. Fresh snow was collected from Ross Island, Antarctica and subsequent analysis identified an average of 29 microplastic particles per litre of melted snow. The most likely source of these airborne microplastics is local scientific research stations, however modelling shows their origin could have been up to 6000 km away.