Microplastics Found in Japanese Clouds May Have Profound Climate Impact, Scientists Warn

Date: September 28, 2023

Location: Tokyo, Japan

*In a groundbreaking discovery, Japanese researchers have confirmed the presence of microplastics in clouds, shedding new light on their potential impact on the climate. This revelation, detailed in research published in Environmental Chemistry Letters, suggests that airborne microplastics may have a more significant influence on our climate than previously thought.

Scientists embarked on a remarkable journey, scaling the iconic peaks of Mount Fuji and Mount Oyama to collect misty water samples from their summits. Advanced imaging techniques were employed to meticulously analyze the physical and chemical properties of these samples, revealing a surprising find. The airborne microplastics ranged in size from 7.1 to 94.6 micrometers, and the research team detected nine different types of polymers and one form of rubber among them.

For every liter of cloud water studied, the scientists discovered between 6.7 and 13.9 pieces of these plastic particles. Of particular concern is the substantial presence of “hydrophilic” or water-attracting polymers, indicating that these microplastics likely play a significant role in initiating cloud formation, thereby impacting climate systems.

Lead author Hiroshi Okochi, from Waseda University, voiced his concerns, stating that the issue of “plastic air pollution” demands immediate attention. He warned that neglecting this issue could contribute to the worsening of climate change and ecological risks, potentially leading to irreversible and severe environmental damage in the future.

Okochi also made the observation that microplastics break down as they reach the stratosphere and are subjected to ultraviolet light from the sun, aggravating the greenhouse gas issue.

Microplastics, defined as plastic particles smaller than 5 millimeters, have diverse sources, including industrial discharges, textiles, synthetic car tires, personal care products, and more. These tiny fragments have been discovered in unexpected places, from deep-sea fish to Arctic sea ice and even covering the snow in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain. However, the mechanisms governing their transport have remained largely elusive, particularly in the realm of airborne microplastics.

The study’s authors stressed that, to the best of their knowledge, this is the first documented evidence of airborne microplastics in cloud water. As emerging evidence connects microplastics to various health impacts, including heart and lung problems, cancer risks, and extensive environmental damage, the importance of addressing this issue becomes even more apparent.

Yuval Noah Harari

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