Study finds microplastic pollution in clouds. Could it affect the weather?
Here’s how to avoid microplastics
We eat and drink at least 70,000 microplastics every year. It’s in our food, water, and beauty products. But we’ve got you covered with ways to limit your intake.
Microplastic pollution is in our oceans, mountains, food, and even our bodies. Now, according to a new study published on Wednesday, microplastic particles have been discovered in clouds, and they may be affecting our weather.
Researchers in China conducted the study, which appears in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters, a publication of the American Chemical Society.
Christopher Reidy, an environmental chemist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who was not involved in the research, said the study shows that “plastic is a pervasive pollutant… everywhere we look it is.” “This is a good study, and I am very impressed by the quality of the work, which is careful and precise,” he said.
“It’s not good news, but it’s good science,” Reddy added.
What are microplastics?
Microplastics are small particles of plastic that come from the slow decomposition of large waste, such as clothing, packaging and car tires. They consist of any type of plastic that is less than five millimeters long.
“Microplastics are in the air we breathe, in our drinking water, and in our bodies,” Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics, told CNN. “If it’s plastic, you’re going to get microplastics sooner or later,” she said.
more: Microplastics are found in air, water, food, and now…human blood
How was the research conducted? What didn’t researchers find?
Scientists led by Yan Wang from Shandong University collected 28 samples of liquid from clouds on the summit of Mount Tai in eastern China. They found in the samples:
- Low-altitude, denser clouds contain greater amounts of microplastics.
- The particles were made of common polymers.
- Microplastics tend to be smaller than 100 micrometers in length, although some are up to 1,500 micrometers long. (A micrometer is 1000 times smaller than a millimeter).
- The older, rougher particles had more lead, mercury and oxygen attached to their surfaces, which researchers say could stimulate the development of clouds.
The researchers then used computer models to determine how the microplastics got there, and tested how the particles affected and were affected by clouds.
Models indicated that airflow from densely populated inland cities, rather than over the ocean or other nearby mountains, served as the main source of microplastics.
“Real eye opening”: Microplastic pollution detected in snow near the summit of Mount Everest
How can microplastics in clouds affect the weather?
In addition to rainfall and snow, clouds “play a vital role in our climate by regulating the amount of solar energy that reaches the surface and the amount of Earth’s energy that radiates back into space,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Therefore, any additional clouds formed by man-made materials such as microplastics could have an impact on the weather and climate on Earth. “Microplastics in clouds likely affect the weather,” Reddy told USA TODAY.
However, the study’s researchers concluded that more work needs to be done to fully understand how microplastics affect drag.
“More research is needed to understand microplastic cloud interactions and potential impacts on atmospheric mineral cycles and cloud formation,” the study said.
Reddy agreed, noting that this study paves the way for other studies, which could look into how microplastics in clouds affect climate and weather.