In the News
Scientific American Friday, Jun. 12, 2020
Carried by the wind, dust particles from places such as the Sahara Desert can float halfway around the world before settling to the ground. As the plastics discarded by humans break down into tiny pieces in the environment, they, too, drift through the atmosphere. Now scientists are a step closer to understanding how these globe-trotting microplastics travel—both locally and on long-distance flights. Researchers spent more than a year collecting microplastics from 11 national parks and wilderness areas in the western U.S. They separately examined the particles that settled on dry days and those that fell along with rain or snow. In addition to shedding light on how microplastics move around, the results, published on Thursday in Science, reveal the sheer scale of the problem: more than 1,000 metric tons of microplastics—the weight of 120 million to 300 million plastic water bottles—fall on protected lands in the country’s western region each year. ... Janice Brahney, a watershed scientist at Utah State University and lead author of the new study, initially set out to investigate how dust carries nutrients, not plastic. But after peering into her microscope and seeing colorful beads and fibers among the bits of dust, she refocused her efforts.