published on 10 April 2019 in water

Microplastics in the Stelvio glaciers

Microplastic contamination has now reached many regions of Earth and it is considered to be one of the pollution with the highest impact on human activity. Microplastics have been found even in the Mariana Trench and now on the Forni Glacier, in the Stelvio National Park too. The presence of microplastics on the alpine glacier has been reported by a team of researchers from the University of Milan and the University of Milano-Bicocca, who presented the results of a sampling campaign (conducted in the summer of 2018) in Vienna, at the European Geosciences Union international conference. On average, 75 particles of microplastic in every kilo of sediment were found in the samples, a datum comparable to the level of contamination observed in European marine and coastal sediments.

Researchers during sampling on the Forni Glacier. Credits: unimi.it

The researchers explain that “While it is not in the least surprising to have found microplastics in supraglacial sediment, after extrapolating these data, albeit with due caution, we have estimated that the tongue of the Forni Glacier, one of the most important Italian glacier systems, may contain between 131 to 162 million particles of plastic.” These microplastics may originate both locally, for example caused by wear and tear of the clothing and equipment of the climbers and hikers visiting the glacier, and from a wider area, with particles transported by air masses, in this case difficult to identify.

Despite the widespread distribution of this contamination, research had never before been conducted into plastic contamination at high altitudes. This study is therefore extremely important for full understanding the pervasiveness of contamination with microplastics and what is their impact on the environment. The research will continue with investigations into the biological aspects linked to their presence on glaciers, with particular focus on the microbiological processes of degradation of plastic and on potential bioaccumulation of particles in the trophic chain.

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