Researchers at Cornell University and Utah State University have found that the air may be a medium using which microplastics circulate the globe. Published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study states that microplastics may be suspended in the air and have patterns of distribution similar to biogeochemical cycles like water, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur cycles, which are vital to living organisms. One of the study researchers said that the movement of microplastics worldwide might have resulted in the ‘plastification’ of our planet.
Mismanaged waste dumped into the sea and on land gets broken down over time, making it easier for circulation. A postdoctoral fellow Marje Prank and engineering Professor Natalie Mahowald at Cornell prepared a microplastic transport model. As per a news story shared on the official Cornell University website, Natalie said they did the modeling to find out the plastic sources.
Speaking about their findings, Prank said that the amount of microplastic present in the atmosphere is alarming, accumulating in the oceans, circulating everywhere, including oceans.
Microplastics data was collected for the study from the Western US between December 2017 and January 2019. As much as 84 percent of the microplastic particles came from cars and dust produced from degraded or used plastic. Seaspray, aerosol particles formed when ocean water hits solid surfaces, was also linked with some 11 percent of microplastic pollution, and another 5 percent is thought to come from agricultural soil dust.
The lead author of this study, Dr. Janice Brahney, assistant professor of natural resources at the Utah State University, said that they had found legacy plastic pollution wherever they have looked. She added that the microplastic sources they studied, while collected this year, were likely dumped into the environment several decades ago.