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The first assessment of the global climate impact of atmospheric microplastics

The first assessment of the global climate impact of atmospheric microplastics

2021-11-16

An environmental model study published on the 20th in the British "Nature" magazine believes that atmospheric microplastics may have a small cooling effect on the climate by reflecting sunlight radiation, but because plastics continue to accumulate in the earth's environment, they may show stronger in the future. Climate effect. These findings are the result of calculations for the first time on the direct global climate impact of atmospheric microplastics.

Microplastics are becoming a widespread pollutant in the global atmosphere. They are small in size and low in density, and can be spread around the earth by wind. The hazards of microplastics are reflected in the small diameter of their particles. The smaller the volume, the higher the specific surface area (the surface area per unit mass of a porous solid material) and the stronger the ability to adsorb pollutants. This is also the reason why it is more harmful to the environment than ordinary non-degradable plastics.

London, the United Kingdom is currently one of the cities with the highest concentration of microplastics in the atmosphere. At present, microplastics are also found in most remote areas of the world: a study in January this year calculated that the distribution of pollutants in the entire Arctic region was About 40 microplastic particles per cubic meter. Synthetic fibers are the largest source of microplastics (92.3%), and most of them are composed of polyester. Polyester fiber is an artificial product obtained by spinning polyester formed by polycondensation of organic dibasic acid and diol.


Scientists now know that atmospheric aerosols heat or cool the earth’s climate by absorbing and scattering radiation. However, since microplastics entered people's field of vision, the radiation effects of atmospheric microplastics and related global climate impacts have not been clear to scientists.


The research team including Laura River, a scientist at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and his colleagues, used climate modeling this time to determine the radiation effects of common atmospheric microplastics. In general, it was found that these microplastics mainly scatter solar radiation at the bottom of the atmosphere, indicating that these microplastics may have a slight cooling effect on the ground climate. The research team pointed out that because the current data is still insufficient, the exact scale of this effect is still uncertain. They also found that according to different hypotheses, the warming effect of microplastics will offset many of the cooling effects.


It is also estimated that the amount of plastic accumulation in landfills and the environment will double in the next 30 years. Researchers warn that if strict measures are not taken to deal with microplastic pollution, unmanaged plastic waste may affect the climate in the future.

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