If you are the kind of person that believes we end up in the sky when we die, then you can be pretty sure Prince is currently singing an altered song. New research from Utah State University, has revealed the extent of plastic now raining on us through storms, snow, wind and simply the air.
The research found that 132 pieces of plastic fell per square metre every day on the study area. The cumulative count of all that plastic is more than 1,000 tons of microplastics each year - enough to make 300 million plastic water bottles, but chopped up into very small pieces. (Yes, way way more than in the pic below.)
The area surveyed was 11 national parks and wilderness areas in the western USA and the irony is that the study didn't actually set out to count plastic. It was supposed to examine how dust-laden winds supply nutrients to remote ecosystems, but after 14 months, the 11 remote weather stations where Assistant Professor Janice Brahney was collecting dust, also wound up collecting thousands of multicolored pieces of microplastic, which amounted to 4% of all particles. Brahney said
“WE THEN CONFIRMED THROUGH 32 DIFFERENT PARTICLE SCANS THAT ROUGHLY 4% OF THE ATMOSPHERIC PARTICLES ANALYSED FROM THESE REMOTE LOCATIONS WERE SYNTHETIC POLYMERS.”
They wondered how the microplastics got to such remote areas and using high-resolution spatial and temporal data, the researchers tested whether plastics deposited in wet versus dry conditions have distinct atmospheric life histories. And they do.
Local urban centres and resuspension from soils or water are principal sources for larger sized wet-deposited plastics (rain and snow). Around 75% of the plastics were deposited under dry conditions and were smaller in size, the rates of deposition were related to indices that suggest longer-range or global transport.
Microplastics are less than five millimeters in length and are often broken fragments from larger pieces of plastic - clothes, packaging & tyres. The extent of microplastics in our oceans, lungs and stomachs is roundly researched and recorded - which of course begs the question of why we don't just do something about it.
WE CAN KEEP COUNTING THE STUFF - WE EVEN KNOW THAT ELEVEN BILLION METRIC TONS OF PLASTIC ARE PROJECTED TO ACCUMULATE IN THE ENVIRONMENT BY 2025. OR DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT COZ THAT'S ALL GOING SOMEWHERE.
We used to worry about Acid rain, but now we have something way worse - Plastic rain. And it's built to last. Thousands of years. Given that sturdy figure, the extent of the the problem will eventually become so obvious we can stop counting it and get on with doing something about it if it's not too late.
Images: Unsplash - Max Bender / Live Science | Research Author Information: Janice Brahney, Margaret Hallerud, Eric Heim: Department of Watershed Sciences, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322, USA / Maura Hahnenberger: Geosciences Department, Salt Lake Community College, Salt Lake City, UT 84123, USA / Suja Sukumaran: Materials and Structural Analysis Division, Thermo Fisher Scientific, San Jose, CA 95134, USA / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org