Atmospheric transport and deposition of microplastics in a remote mountain catchment

Abstract

Plastic litter is an ever-increasing global issue and one of this generation’s key environmental challenges. Microplastics have reached oceans via river transport on a global scale. With the exception of two megacities, Paris (France) and Dongguan (China), there is a lack of information on atmospheric microplastic deposition or transport. Here we present the observations of atmospheric microplastic deposition in a remote, pristine mountain catchment (French Pyrenees). We analysed samples, taken over five months, that represent atmospheric wet and dry deposition and identified fibres up to ~750 µm long and fragments ≤300 µm as microplastics. We document relative daily counts of 249 fragments, 73 films and 44 fibres per square metre that deposited on the catchment. An air mass trajectory analysis shows microplastic transport through the atmosphere over a distance of up to 95 km. We suggest that microplastics can reach and affect remote, sparsely inhabited areas through atmospheric transport.

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Fig. 1: Atmospheric MP deposition captured in the collectors.
Fig. 2: Deposited MP characterization.
Fig. 3: MP transport trajectories relative to the recorded meteorology (simplistic MP settling velocity trajectory calculation) and HYSPLIT4 back-trajectory modelling.

Data availability

The authors confirm that all the data that underlie the results presented in this study are available within the Supplementary Information files and can be downloaded in conjunction with this paper.

Change history

  • 18 June 2019

    In the version of this Article originally published, the following text was missing from the Acknowlegements: ‘CESBIO OHM Bernadouze weather station is supported by the Observatoire Spatial Régional (CNRS-INSU) and CNES-TOSCA funding was awarded to S. Gascoin. This scientific work was made possible with the logistical support of the ONF (French National Forestry Office) and the support of the inhabitants of the valley.’ In addition, ref. 17 was the wrong reference, it should have been ‘Gascoin, S. & Fanise, P. Bernadouze Meteorological Data https://doi.org/10.6096/DV/UQITZ4 (SEDOO OMP, 2018)’. The Article has now been corrected.

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Acknowledgements

The data were funded and provided by the CNRS TRAM Project, ANR-15-CE01-0008, Observatoire Homme-Milieu Pyrénées Haut Vicdessos—LABEX DRIIHM ANR-11-LABX0010 and CESBIO. The research leading to these results has also received funding from the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under REA grant agreement no. PCOFUND-GA-2013-609102, through the PRESTIGE programme coordinated by Campus France. The authors acknowledge that this work was carried out in the CMAC National Facility, housed within the University of Strathclyde’s Technology and Innovation Centre, who are funded with a UKRPIF (UK Research Partnership Institute Fund) capital award, SFC ref. H13054, from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). CESBIO OHM Bernadouze weather station is supported by the Observatoire Spatial Régional (CNRS-INSU) and CNES-TOSCA funding was awarded to S. Gascoin. This scientific work was made possible with the logistical support of the ONF (French National Forestry Office) and the support of the inhabitants of the valley.

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S.A. and D.A. designed the study, undertook all the analyses and co-authored the manuscript. G.L.R. and V.R.P. provided the study design and analytical guidance and assisted in the preparation and revision of the manuscript. P.D. undertook all the field sampling and field protocol design, assisted in the sample preparation and contributed to the manuscript. A.S., S.B. and D.G. provided financial support and field site access that enabled this study to occur and contributed to the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Deonie Allen.

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Allen, S., Allen, D., Phoenix, V.R. et al. Atmospheric transport and deposition of microplastics in a remote mountain catchment. Nat. Geosci. 12, 339–344 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-019-0335-5

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