Japanese study detects microplastics in clouds, potentially altering the climate

Yet another reminder that human influence on our planet extends even to the sky

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published September 28, 2023 10:38PM (EDT)

Storm Cloud Over A Farm (Getty Images/sakchai vongsasiripat)
Storm Cloud Over A Farm (Getty Images/sakchai vongsasiripat)

No one wants to imagine giant cloud filled with plastic raining crud water all over them. Unfortunately, that is increasingly becoming reality, according to a recent study published in the journal Environmental Chemistry Letters. A team of Japanese scientists analyzed cloud water sampled at Mount Fuij and other Japanese mountains summits from 1300 to 3776 meters in altitude to search for microplastics. A microplastic is defined as a plastic particle that is five millimeters or less across or in length. Plastic pollution has been linked to cancer, infertility, immune diseases and inflammatory bowel disease. Microplastics are so pervasive that they appear in the fish and other foods we eat, the water we drink, in countless common household products and even in our blood.

Apparently microplastics are also, quite literally, in the clouds, yet another reminder that human influence on our planet extends to the trenches of the oceans and far out into orbit around Earth.

"Our finding suggest that high-altitude microplastics cloud influence cloud formation and, in turn, might modify the climate," the authors write. Considering that more than 10 million tons of plastic will be dumped into the ocean from land every year, it is perhaps unsurprising that the scientists found most of the airborne microplastics originated from the ocean, based on their backward trajectory analysis. They noted that their study was the first to officially discover airborne microplastics in cloud water both in the atmospheric boundary layer and in the free troposphere.

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