as hurricane rally When it skirted the U.S. East Coast and turned north across the Atlantic Ocean in 2021, a special instrument was waiting for it on the shores of Newfoundland. Because hurricanes feed on warm ocean water, scientists wondered whether they might be able to pick up and deposit microplastics from the ocean surface when they make landfall. The rally was literally the perfect storm. Since it had not touched land before reaching the island, anything that fell would have been picked up from the water or air. For example, in a densely populated city, you will be able to find it there. Lots of microplastics.
As Rally passed over Newfoundland, its instruments swallowed something falling from the sky. That included rain, of course, but it also included clumps of microplastics, defined as bits smaller than 5 millimeters, or about the width of a pencil eraser. In a recent paper, researchers found that at its peak, it was depositing more than 100,000 microplastics per square meter of land per day. paper It was published in the magazine Communication Earth and Environment. So we add hurricanes to the ever-growing list of ways tiny plastic particles not only enter every nook and cranny of the environment, but also easily travel between land, sea, and air.
In general, as humanity produces exponentially more plastics, the environment also becomes contaminated with exponentially more microplastics. In the past, the prevailing belief was that microplastics ended up in the ocean and stayed there. For example, when you wash synthetic clothing like polyester, each load releases millions of microfibers that end up in the ocean as wastewater. But recent research shows that the ocean actually spews particles into the atmosphere and blows them back onto land, both when waves break and when bubbles rise to the surface and carry microplastics on sea breezes. It has been found.
The equipment found on the Newfoundland settlements was very simple: a glass cylinder containing a small amount of ultrapure water was firmly attached to the ground with wooden stakes. Before, during and after the hurricane, researchers came every six hours to collect water to collect particles that fell on Newfoundland. “This is a place where extreme weather events occur frequently,” said Anna Ryan, a geoscientist at Dalhousie University and lead author of the study. “It’s also quite remote and has a fairly low population density, meaning there aren’t a lot of sources of microplastics nearby.”
The researchers found that even before and after the rally, tens of thousands of microplastics were falling per square meter of land per day. But when the hurricane hit, that number jumped to 113,000. “We found that large amounts of microplastics were deposited during the peak of the hurricane,” Ryan said. “The overall amount of deposition was also relatively high compared to previous studies.” These studies were conducted under normal conditions, but in more remote locations, she says.
The researchers also used a technique known as back trajectory modeling, which essentially simulates where the air that reached the device had previously been. This confirms that Larry picked up microplastics at sea, suspended them in the air, and dumped them on Newfoundland. In fact, previous studies have estimated that there are between 12 million and 21 million tons of microplastics swirling in the upper 200 meters of the Atlantic Ocean, but this does not count microfibers, so this It was a huge underestimate. The Newfoundland study notes that Rally happened to pass over a garbage patch in the North Atlantic Gyre, where ocean currents are accumulating floating plastic.