The global reach of microplastics is ascribed to leaching from landfills, wastewater outfalls and runoff. Now snowfall can be implicated as an agent in the transport and deposition of this durable pollutant.

Snow was sampled from ice floes in the Fram Strait between Greenland and Norway and on Svalbard, Norway, to assess the role of atmospheric fallout in delivering microplastics to the Arctic environment. Measurements were also made near urban regions in northern Europe for comparison. Samples at all sites contained high (A) Polystyrene fiber from Svalbard sample (length, 1101 μm); (B) polypropylene particle from Heligoland sample (diameter, 256 μm); (C) polyvinyl chloride fiber from ice floe sample (length, 956 μm). Source: M. Bergmann et al.(A) Polystyrene fiber from Svalbard sample (length, 1101 μm); (B) polypropylene particle from Heligoland sample (diameter, 256 μm); (C) polyvinyl chloride fiber from ice floe sample (length, 956 μm). Source: M. Bergmann et al.concentrations of microplastic, with the highest level of 154,000 particles per liter documented for a site in Bavaria. A lower concentration of 14,400 particles per liter, measured at an Arctic sampling station in Svalbard, is also environmentally excessive and evidence of snow scavenging as a pathway of microplastic deposition.

The number of polymers per sample was higher in European samples and were derived from acrylates, polyurethanes, nitrile rubber, polyethylene and polyamide. Arctic samples contained polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, polycarbonate and nitrile rubber.

Scientists from Alfred-Wegener-Institut Helmholtz (Germany) and WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (Switzerland) contributed to this research, which is published in Science Advances.

The ubiquitous nature of microplastics has been widely documented. These pollutant parties, smaller than 5mm in size, have been measured in marine and terrestrial ecosystems worldwide, and impact the food chains of wildlife as well as humans.

To contact the author of this article, email shimmelstein@globalspec.com