Temporal archive of atmospheric microplastic deposition presented in ombrotrophic peat

Allen, D. and Allen, S. and Le Roux, G. and Simonneau, A. and Galop, D. and Phoenix, V. R. (2021) Temporal archive of atmospheric microplastic deposition presented in ombrotrophic peat. Environmental Science and Technology Letters, 8 (11). pp. 954-960. ISSN 2328-8930 (https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.estlett.1c00697)

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Ombrotrophic peatland—fed solely from atmospheric deposition of nutrients and precipitation—provide unique archives of atmospheric pollution and have been used to illustrate trends and changes in atmospheric trace element composition from the recent decadal to the Holocene period. With the acknowledgment of atmosphere plastic pollution, analysis of ombrotrophic peat presents an opportunity to characterize the historical atmospheric microplastic pollution prevalence. Ombrotrophic peatland is often located in comparatively pristine mountainous and boreal areas, acting as sentinels of environmental change. In this paired site study, a Sphagnum ombrotrophic peat record is used for the first time to identify the trend of atmospheric microplastic pollution. This high altitude, remote location ombrotrophic peat archive pilot study identifies microplastic presence in the atmospheric pollution record, increasing from <5(±1) particles/m2/day in the 1960s to 178(±72) particles/m2/day in 2015–2020 in a trend similar to the European plastic production and waste management. Compared to this catchment’s lake sediment archive, the ombrotrophic peat core appears to be effective in collecting and representing atmospheric microplastic deposition in this remote catchment, collecting microplastic particles that are predominantly ≤20 μm. This study suggests that peat records may be a useful tool in assessing the past quantities and trends of atmospheric microplastic.