Blown to the North? Microplastic in snow fallen out from the atmosphere of Europe and the Arctic

Melanie.Bergmann [ at ]


There is a 99% mismatch between plastic debris estimated to enter the oceans and empirical evidence pointing to yet unaccounted sinks. The FRAM pollution observatory was installed to quantify plastic pollution in different ecosystem compartments to identify hidden sinks and pathways in an area of increasing pollution. Indeed, our first analyses showed enormous quantities of microplastics ≤ 25 µm in both Arctic sea ice and sediments from the deep sea posing the question: How is all this plastic transported so far to the North? First reports of microplastic in the atmosphere of Paris and Dongguan city (China) pointed to atmospheric transport as an important pathway. Here, we analysed snow samples from ice floes in the Fram Strait (2016/17) and from Spitsbergen, Helgoland, Bremen, Bavaria and the Swiss Alps (2018) to assess the role of this potential pathway of microplastic to the North. Identification of particles was carried out by µ-Raman and FTIR imaging. Microplastics were present in 13 out of 14 samples analysed and ranged from 0.22 - 193 × 10³ N L−1 melted snow in Europe. Although FTIR-imaging indicated that European snow is more contaminated than Arctic snow, concentrations were still high (0.04 - 107 × 10³ N L−1). The results demonstrate that the polymer composition varies strongly between samples and that it is also inhomogeneous within a sample region. As with previous data, the sizes of particles were mostly in the smallest size range with no saturation in the lowest size end pointing to the presence of yet smaller particles beyond the current detection limit. Arctic snow contained particles from 11-250 µm and European samples from 11- 150 µm, more than 90% were ≤ 25 µm. The polymer composition will be compared with that of sea ice to assess if atmospheric transport is linked with the contamination of sea ice/surface water. Our results have important repercussions as they expose a hitherto unknown route of microplastics to the north. In addition, the high concentrations of very small microplastic in the atmosphere, especially in urban areas, are of particular concern in the context of human exposure through inhalation.

Item Type
Conference (Talk)
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Research Networks
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Event Details
Arctic Frontiers 2019, 21 Jan 2019 - 25 Jan 2019, Tromsoe.
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Bergmann, M. , Mützel, S. , Primpke, S. , Tekman, M. B. and Gerdts, G. (2019): Blown to the North? Microplastic in snow fallen out from the atmosphere of Europe and the Arctic , Arctic Frontiers 2019, Tromsoe, 21 January 2019 - 25 January 2019 .

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