Microplastics can travel far from their source on a gentle breeze

A new study has shown that microplastics can even be carried with the wind, travelling efficiently through the atmosphere to reach the remotest of regions. 

While it is known microplstics can travel long distances via waterways and even being deposited as fibers from human clothing, little research has looked at its transport by air. 

A study of the atmosphere in a remote mountain in the French Pyrenees showed that significant amounts of microplastics were being deposited daily into the air from locations at least 100km away. 

The researchers say their study shows that microplastics can be efficiently transported by air and wind to reach the most remote and pristine environments on Earth. 

A new study has shown that microplastics can even be carried with the wind, travelling efficiently through the atmosphere to reach the remotest of regions

A new study has shown that microplastics can even be carried with the wind, travelling efficiently through the atmosphere to reach the remotest of regions

The presence of microplastics are being increasingly documented in remote habitats on Earth, not native to the local region. 

Plastic pollution on Earth is set to double by 2030, threatening wildlife and human health.    

Previously, microparticles have shown up in the Arctic, where the process of freezing and melting sea ice makes it a good transporter of plastic particles.

Recently for the first time, they were found in the Forni mountain glaciers in Switzerland, confirming their widespread contamination of natural resources.  

Evidence exists for microplastics being transported by air are also available, but mostly for dense megacities such as Dongguan in China and Paris in France. 

Few studies have been carried out in remote regions with little human contact. 

Previously, microparticles have shown up in remote regions such as the arctic, where the process of freezing and melting sea ice makes it a good transporter of plastic particles

Previously, microparticles have shown up in remote regions such as the arctic, where the process of freezing and melting sea ice makes it a good transporter of plastic particles

In the current study, scientists from Edinburgh analysed samples collected over five months that represent deposits from the atmosphere. 

They found daily counts of microplastic fibres being deposited in the region averaging 249 fragments, 73 films and 44 fibres per square metre.  

Employing a technique known as air mass trajectory analysis, the researchers calculated that the microplastic had been transport through air over a distance of 59 miles (95km). 

The scientists suggest that their findings show that microplastics can reach and affect remote, sparsely inhabited areas through atmospheric transport. 

For the first time, microplastics have been found in mountain glaciers, confirming their widespread contamination of natural resources. Previously, they appeared in the Arctic, and researchers have now located them in the Forni Glaciers (pictured) in Switzerland

For the first time, microplastics have been found in mountain glaciers, confirming their widespread contamination of natural resources. Previously, they appeared in the Arctic, and researchers have now located them in the Forni Glaciers (pictured) in Switzerland

The process of freezing and melting sea ice in the Arctic makes it a particularly good transporter of plastic particles.

Even larvaceans found in the sea have been shown to provide a pathway for transporting microplastics into deep-sea food webs. 

Recent expeditions to collect samples in the Arctic found record levels of microplastics and fragments that included polyethylene, nylon, polyester and cellulose acetate.

High levels of paint and nylon particles were also obtained.

Environmental charity WWF International has warned plastic waste in the oceans could reach 300 million tons in just over a decade.

That would double the amount of plastic in the ocean, which took more than half a century to build up between 1950 and 2016.

Almost a third of all plastics produced, or 104 million tons annually, will find their way into the oceans and natural world.

The full report of the study was published in Nature Geosciences. 

WHAT ARE MICROPLASTICS AND HOW DO THEY GET INTO OUR WATERWAYS?

Microplastics are plastic particles measuring less than five millimetres (0.2 inches).

They have hit the headlines over recent years, as improper disposal has resulted in tonnes of waste making its way into the ocean.

Each year, tonnes of plastic waste fails to get recycled and dealt with correctly, which can mean they end up in marine ecosystems. 

Although it’s unclear exactly how they end up in the water, microplastics may enter through simple everyday wear and tear of clothing and carpets.

Tumble dryers may also be a source, particularly if they have a vent to the open air. 

Plastics don’t break down for thousands of years and it is estimated that there are already millions of items of plastic waste in the oceans. This number is expected to rise. 

Studies have also revealed 700,000 plastic fibres could be released into the atmosphere with every washing machine cycle.

Current water systems are unable to effectively filter out all microplastic contamination, due to the varying size of particles.  

The amount of plastic rubbish in the world’s oceans will outweigh fish by 2050 unless the world takes drastic action to further recycle, a report released in 2016 revealed.

More than 80 per cent of the world’s tap water is contaminated with plastic, research published in September 2017 revealed.

The US has the highest contamination rate at 93 per cent, followed by Lebanon and India, experts from the University of Minnesota found.

France, Germany and the UK have the lowest levels, however, they still come in at 72 per cent.

Overall, 83 per cent of water samples from dozens of nations around the world contain microplastics.

Scientists warn microplastics are so small they could penetrate organs. 

Bottled water may not be a safer alternative, as scientists have found contaminated samples.

Creatures of all shapes and sizes have been found to have consumed the plastics, whether directly or indirectly.

Previous research has also revealed microplastics absorb toxic chemicals, which are then released in the gut of animals.

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