The purity of the driven snow can no longer be taken for granted according to new research which has found microplastics in freshly fallen snow in Antarctica.

Tiny particles of plastic, fragments of everyday items, have previously been found in sea ice and water – and even in human blood – but had never before been uncovered in fresh snowfall.

The study, published in the scientific journal The Cryosphere, highlights “the extent of plastic pollution globally” by identifying, on average, 29 microplastic particles per litre of melted snow.

The concentration was even higher than had been reported in the surrounding Ross Sea and in Antarctic sea ice.

Samples taken from snow near the scientific bases on Antarctica found concentrations nearly three times higher, similar to those found in Italian glacier debris.

More than a dozen different types of plastic were found with the most common being PET, which is used to make drinks bottles.

Alex Aves, a PhD student at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, collected the samples from the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica in late 2019.

At the time her colleagues were “optimistic that she wouldn’t find any microplastics in such a pristine and remote location,” according to Dr Laura Revell.

Ms Aves was also asked “to collect snow off the Scott Base and McMurdo Station roadways, so she’d have at least some microplastics to study,” added Dr Revell.

But they needn’t have bothered: “Once back in the lab, it quickly became obvious there were plastic particles in every sample from the remote sites on the Ross Ice Shelf too, and that the findings would be of global significance.”

Ms Aves said she was shocked by the findings: “It’s incredibly sad but finding microplastics in fresh Antarctic snow highlights the extent of plastic pollution into even the most remote regions of the world.

“We collected snow samples from 19 sites across the Ross Island region of Antarctica and found microplastics in all of these.

“Looking back now, I’m not at all surprised,” Dr Revell added. “From the studies published in the last few years we’ve learned that everywhere we look for airborne microplastics, we find them.”

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