We're finding microplastics in our snow... so what does that mean?
After a recent U.S. Geological Survey report showed microplastics in snow samples dating from 2013-2017, researchers are now left with a new question: what now?
Richard Reynolds, US Geological Survey says they're still working on answering that question, but they know it's one worth working towards.
"They have diameters on the order of about eight to ten microns," Reynolds said. "So we don't see that with our naked eye. Just for comparison, a red blood cell, human red blood cell is about eight microns across."
The team is now testing samples from 2018-2022, expecting to find confirmation of microplastics in those samples as well, and potentially enough data over time to show if the amount of microplastics is increasing or decreasing, as the four years cataloged right now are not sufficient to show a trend.
"The most common kind we see are long, thin fibers. They can be straight, or they can be curled up like a figure eight or pretzel even," Reynolds said.
As for where they are coming from, Reynolds gestured broadly. "They are coming in through the atmosphere. They're being deposited by windstorms, but I think they're also being deposited under quieter circumstances. Microplastics are in Earth's atmosphere."
He said the snow in a sense is acting like a sponge, catching the dust particles that have the microplastics inside them. Whether or not that directly affects the albedo, or reflectiveness of the snow, (as dirt has been proven to capture more heat from solar radiation, therefore melting snow faster than we would like) has yet to be seen, but it's something they are also looking into.
From the most recent studies, they surveyed 14 different snow collection sites across the state, all 14 showed microplastics in the first set of samples.
"It's here, It's in our backyard," Reynolds said. "It's in the front range, too, of course."
Another troubling spot we are finding microplastics happens to be in our wildlife, and in our own bodies. Reynolds said studies have shown proof of microplastics in lungs and blood, as well as a placenta. Once again, the health effects of that are not Reynolds' specialty as he is not a biologist, but one could argue that forging particles ending up in your body is not optimal.
Over the next few months, the 2018-2022 samples will be tested, and a trend should be able to be drawn in the number of microplastics.
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