Microplastic pollution is everywhere, including near the top of the highest mountain on Earth.
New research based on a National Geographic expedition to Mount Everest last year details how microplastics found small plastic particles less than 5 millimeters long in snow samples collected from several places on the mountain, including just below peak at approximately 27,000 feet in a location known as the balcony.
Snow samples collected in the mountains and in the valley below contained amounts of polyester, acrylic, nylon and polypropylene fibers, research published in An Earth reports. Materials are used to make outdoor clothing commonly used by climbers, as well as umbrellas and ropes used for top scaling.
The highest concentrations of microplastics were found around Base Camp, where climbers spend most of their time. Lower amounts of microplastics were found in the streams leading down the mountain to Sagarmatha National Park. The researchers said this may be due to the constant flow of water created by the glaciers.
The microplastics found closer to the top may have been transported from low altitudes by extreme winds, the researchers said.
In recent years, we have found microplastics in specimens collected across the planet – from the Arctic to our rivers and deep seas. With that in mind, finding microplastics near the top of Mount Everest is a reminder at times that we need to do more to protect our environment, said Imogen Napper, a National Geographic explorer and marine scientist from the University of Plymouth, in a declaration.
Microplastics have been discovered in the deepest parts of the ocean, including the Mariana Trench 36,000 meters below sea level, but this is the first time they have been discovered on Everest. Plastic pollution poses an ecological threat as aquatic life and birds can mistake microplastics for food.
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