Japanese scientists have found microplastics in clouds, which could be affecting the climate in ways that we don’t yet fully understand.
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic, less than 5 millimeters in size, that come from a variety of sources, including industrial wastewater, textiles, car tires, and personal care products. They have already been found in fish, Arctic sea ice, and the snows of the Pyrenees mountains.
To study microplastics in clouds, Japanese scientists collected water samples from the mists that shroud Mount Fuji and Mount Oyama. They used advanced imaging techniques to identify nine different types of polymers and one type of rubber in the microplastics, which ranged in size from 0.028 to 0.037 inches. Each liter of cloud water tested contained between 0.023 and 0.046 pieces of plastic.
When microplastics reach the upper atmosphere and are exposed to sunlight, they break down and release greenhouse gases. The scientists say that this could have a significant impact on the climate, but more research is needed to understand the mechanisms of transport and degradation.
“Ten million tons of these plastic bits end up in the ocean, released with the ocean spray, and find their way into the atmosphere. This implies that microplastics may have become an essential component of clouds, contaminating nearly everything we eat and drink via ‘plastic rainfall’”, the university said in announcing the new research findings.
“As far as we know, this is the first time anyone has reported on microplastics in the water of clouds.”
Reference- National Geographic, Journal Environmental Chemistry Letters, Waseda University PR, Al Jazeera story