Microplastics are well-known for choking the oceans, but it’s less well-known that they’re also swirling around in the Earth’s atmosphere — and may even be having a minor impact on the planet’s temperature. By reflecting or absorbing solar energy, tiny airborne particles such as volcanic ash and fabricated smog have varied effects on the climate. Microplastic particles are also found to float around our atmosphere, traveling great distances on wind ribbons. For the first time, researchers from Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Canterbury in New Zealand looked into whether microplastics in the air could affect our climate.
According to their calculations, the current volume, distribution, and types of microplastics flowing in the Earth’s atmosphere may be warming and cooling our climate, albeit to a tiny extent, as reported in the journal Nature.
“We looked into how airborne microplastics affect the Earth’s atmosphere, namely whether they warm or cool it. They do both, it turns out. Overall, airborne microplastics are effective in scattering sunlight, implying that the climate will be cooled. They, however, absorb radiation emitted by the Earth, which means they contribute to the greenhouse effect in a minor degree “Dr. Laura Revell, main study author, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Canterbury said in a statement.
“In our climate model simulations, the actual degree of microplastics’ influence on climate differs depending on assumptions we made about how microplastics are spread throughout Earth’s atmosphere,” she noted. “According to our findings, the impact of microplastics on global climate is currently negligible. However, it is predicted to rise in the future: to date, an estimated five billion tonnes of plastic trash has accumulated in landfills or the environment, and this figure is expected to double in the next three decades “Dr. Revell remarked.
Microplastics have been found in almost every nook and crevice on our globe, from Antarctic ice to human intestines. In general, there is disagreement over the impact of microplastic on animal health. Nonetheless, this field of study is still in its infancy, and there are numerous unknowns. As it stands now, there appears to be a growing body of evidence linking microplastic exposure in humans to metabolic abnormalities, neurotoxicity, and carcinogenic consequences. While the researchers acknowledge that their findings are constrained by a lack of data on the subject, they suggest that this is something to keep an eye on in the future, especially as plastic pollution continues to rise.