GS Paper – 3 (Environment)

For the first time, microplastics have been found in freshly fallen snow in Antarctica. The pollutant, scientists argue, poses a growing threat to the region’s ecosystem and could increase the melting of ice and snow. While microplastics have been found across the world, from the world’s deepest ocean floors to the peak of Mount Everest, researchers say that this is the first time that they have been found in freshly fallen snow in Antarctica.

What are microplastics?

  1. Microplastics are tiny plastic debris that are smaller than 5 mm in length, tinier than even a grain of rice.
  2. There are two types of microplastics. Primary microplastics are tiny particles that are purposely designed as such for commercial use, like in cosmetics, nurdles-plastic pellets used in industrial manufacturing and in fibres from synthetic textiles like nylon.
  3. Secondary microplastics are formed through the degradation of larger plastic items like bottles, fishing nets and plastic bags.
  4. This occurs through exposure to the environment, like radiation from the sun, wind and ocean waves.

Why is this discovery troubling?

  1. It shows that the spread of microplastics is so widespread, that even the remotest and least habitable places in the world are now infested by these particles.
  2. The presence of these particles can pose a huge threat to Antarctica’s distinctive ecosystem. Microplastics are not biodegradable and once they are found in the environment, they begin to accumulate. They can be toxic for plants and animals.
  3. The presence of microplastics in Antarctica can also worsen the impact of climate change.
  4. Ice sheets and glaciers are already rapidly melting, and the report suggests that the microplastics deposited in ice and snow can accelerate the melting of the cryosphere — regions where water is in solid form, like the planet’s North and South Poles.