“There is only one group of animals on the planet that use plastic.”
Microplastics found in clouds can influence weather and global temperatures. Scientists from Eastern China found that 24 out of 28 water samples contained plastic particles, which are commonly found in synthetic fibers and packaging.
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Air, water, soil, food and even blood – microplastics have found a home almost everywhere on Earth, and now that list includes clouds, writes The Guardian.
Plastic particles were recently discovered over eastern China, and new research shows that these microplastics may influence the formation of clouds and weather.
A team of scientists from Shandong University in China collected cloud water at the top of Mount Tai and found microplastics in 24 out of 28 samples. These include polyethylene terephthalate (otherwise known as PET), polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate and polystyrene, all particles commonly found in synthetic fibers, clothing and textiles, as well as packaging and face masks.
“This discovery provides significant evidence of the presence of large amounts of microplastics in clouds”, – the researchers said in a paper published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters.
Earlier this year, a study in Japan found that microplastics were present on the peaks of Mount Fuji and Mount Oyama, suggesting the particles may have originated from plastic in the ocean and were carried by air masses. The concentration of microplastics in the cloud water of Mount Tai was 70 times higher than in the cloud water of the Japanese mountains.
“Most of the pollution we tend to think about is in liquid form, – says Fay Couceiro, professor of environmental pollution at the University of Portsmouth. – We tend to think that this happens in the river and the sea. While microplastics, since they are physical particles, do not follow the usual rules. We find microplastics in these pristine conditions on the tops of these extremely inaccessible mountains.
So how do they get there? – asks The Guardian. In addition to pollution from people visiting these areas, particles can become airborne. Samples taken from low-altitude, denser clouds contained higher amounts of microplastics.
Aged plastics – in other words, those that have already been exposed to ultraviolet radiation, – were smaller in size and had a rougher surface. They also contained more lead, mercury and oxygen compared to pristine plastics. Scientists have found that clouds can modify microplastics, possibly causing these particles to influence cloud formation.
“Cloud formation has a huge impact not only on our local weather patterns, but also on our global temperatures”, – said Couceiro, who was not involved in the study.
Clouds influence climate in a variety of ways. They produce precipitation and snow, influencing global precipitation and vegetation. Clouds block sunlight, cooling the planet's surface and providing shade on the ground. But they can also trap heat and moisture, subsequently warming the air.
The study authors say more research is needed to fully determine the impact of microplastics on the weather, but it remains clear that more can be done to address the problem.
“There is only one group of animals on this planet that use plastic, and that is us humans, – says Couceiro. – We really need a global response to this because the problem will not be solved by one country because the air does not respect borders.