Evidence of free tropospheric and long-range transport of microplastic at Pic du Midi Observatory

Allen, S. and Allen, D. and Baladima, F. and Phoenix, V. R. and Thomas, J. L. and Le Roux, G. and Sonke, J. E. (2021) Evidence of free tropospheric and long-range transport of microplastic at Pic du Midi Observatory. Nature Communications, 12. 7242. ISSN 2041-1723 (https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-27454-7)

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The emerging threat of atmospheric microplastic pollution has prompted researchers to study areas previously considered beyond the reach of plastic. Investigating the range of atmospheric microplastic transport is key to understanding the global extent of this problem. While atmospheric microplastics have been discovered in the planetary boundary layer, their occurrence in the free troposphere is relatively unexplored. Confronting this is important because their presence in the free troposphere would facilitate transport over greater distances and thus the potential to reach more distal and remote parts of the planet. Here we show evidence of 0.09–0.66 microplastics particles/m3 over 4 summer months from the Pic du Midi Observatory at 2877 meters above sea level. These results exhibit true free tropospheric transport of microplastic, and high altitude microplastic particles <50 µm (aerodynamic diameter). Analysis of air/particle history modelling shows intercontinental and trans-oceanic transport of microplastics illustrating the potential for global aerosol microplastic transport.