Microplastics found in snow close to summit of Mount Everest - CBBC Newsround

Elias Hubbard
November 22, 2020

Scientists studying plastic pollution on Mount Everest have discovered microplastics as high as 8,440 metres up the mountain, just 400 metres below the peak.

" We strongly suspect that these types of objects constitute an important source of contamination, rather than things like food and drink containers", the researcher says. They calculate the supplemental oxygen needed to take the team to the summit, devise ways to lighten scientific equipment, design an inflatable catamaran raft to use for sample collection in alpine lakes, and map a route involving more than six different types of transportation. A study published in the Cell Press journal One Earth on Friday describes the disheartening findings.

© Brittany Mumma/National Geographic National Geographic's Heather Clifford collects snow samples near the Mount Everest Base Camp in May 2019.

"I didn't know what to expect in terms of results, but it really surprised me to find microplastics in every single snow sample I analyzed", says "plastic detective" Imogen Napper from the University of Plymouth. "With microplastics so ubiquitous in our environment, it's time to focus on informing appropriate environmental solutions", she added.

But the first study on microplastics in Everest, conducted in 2019 by scientists on an expedition of the National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet campaign, shows that this material can be found up to 8,840 meters, albeit with higher concentrations in the base camp located at 5,364 meters.

"These are the highest microplastics discovered so far", said Napper.

Dr Imogen Napper working in the laboratories at the University of Plymouth. While the area with the highest concentration of microplastics is the Base Camp area where climbers and hikers spend the most time, it was said that these pieces probably came from the clothes, tents and ropes used by the climbers. Microplastic was found in only three of the stream water samples.

There were lower quantities in streams leading down from the mountain to the Sagarmatha National Park, which scientists suggest could be due to the continuous flow of water created by the region's glaciers.

Not only is it now possible for humans to climb to the summit of Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen, it's actually become easier since the beginning of the 20th century: increases in temperature have increased the air pressure on its summit and made more oxygen available for human climbers to breathe. Animals on the mountain can consume the particles and since they're are so small, they can make the clean-up more hard.

Professor Richard Thompson, who is head of the International Marine Litter Research unit, said: "The study emphasises the importance of designing materials that have the benefit of plastics without the lasting and harmful legacy". However, it is those qualities which are, in large part, creating the global environmental crisis we are seeing today.

Countries, including Nepal, are imposing regulations on climbing expeditions in a bid to tackle the environmental problems caused by waste.

Reference: 20 November 2020, One Earth.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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