It's raining...plastic?

August 22, 2020

From Arctic snow to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, microplastics are turning up nearly everywhere. By 2025, scientists project eleven billion metric tons of plastic in our environment.

A new study led by SFU graduate Janice Brahney found nearly every ecosystem on the planet, including isolated locations like national parks and wilderness areas, accumulates plastic pollution transported by rain and wind.

Brahney and her research team tracked the origin and lifecycle of wet and dry microplastics. The study approximates over 1,000 tons of plastic from the atmosphere travel to protected areas in the US, like the Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree National Park, every year. That’s equivalent to 120-300 million plastic water bottles.

Researchers also found microplastics in 98 per cent of all samples analyzed. Most of the particles found were synesthetic microfibers, the same material commonly used to make clothing.

Brahney gives credits to her education at SFU, saying that her time “in the Environmental Science program and Earth Science set me up well for a research career. My undergraduate and graduate advisors provided me with amazing research opportunities and I am extremely grateful for these experiences"

The consequences of microplastic in our environment are not yet well understood by scientists. But studies like Brahney’s help us better identify the source of microplastics which in turn can help implement solutions to mitigate plastic pollution.