Explained: Why is the discovery of microplastics in fresh Antarctic snow troubling?

What is the News?

For the first time, Microplastics have been found in freshly fallen snow in Antarctica. 

What are Microplastics?

Microplastics are tiny plastic debris that is smaller than 5 mm in length, and tinier than even a grain of rice. There are two types of microplastics:

Primary microplastics: These are tiny particles that are purposely designed as such for commercial use, like in cosmetics, nurdles-plastic pellets used in industrial manufacturing and in fibres from synthetic textiles like nylon.

Secondary microplastics: These are formed through the degradation of larger plastic items like bottles, fishing nets and plastic bags.This occurs through exposure to the environment, like radiation from the sun, wind and ocean waves.

What did the researchers find in Antarctica?
Read here: Microplastics found in fresh Antarctic snow for first time
Why are these findings troubling?

Firstly, microplastics are not biodegradable and once they are found in the environment, they begin to accumulate. They can be toxic for plants and animals.

Secondly, ingestion of microplastics by various life forms in the region, from microorganisms like zooplankton to larger predators like king penguins can disrupt their usual biological processes and negatively impact the entire Antarctic food chain.

Thirdly, dark-coloured microplastics which constituted 55% of the samples collected in the study are even more harmful than lighter colours as they are better at absorbing sunlight and retain more heat.

Fourthlywhen snow travels in the atmosphere, it binds itself to airborne particles and pollutants, which are then deposited on Earth’s surfaces. This phenomenon is called “scavenging”. Hence, this is a significant way in which microplastics are able to travel and further pollute land and water.

Source: The post is based on the article “Explained: Why is the discovery of microplastics in fresh Antarctic snow troubling?” published in Indian Express on 17th June 2022.

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