Microplastics captured by snowfall: A study in Northern Iran
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Samples of fresh snow (n = 34) have been collected from 29 locations in various urban and remote regions of northern Iran following a period of sustained snowfall and the thawed contents examined for microplastics (MPs) according to established techniques. MP concentrations ranged from undetected to 86 MP L-1 (mean and median concentrations ~20 MP and 12 MP L-1, respectively) and there was no significant difference in MP concentration between sample location type or between different depths of snow (or time of deposition) sampled at selected sites. Fibres were the dominant shape of MP and μ-Raman spectroscopy of selected samples revealed a variety of polymer types, with nylon most abundant. Scanning electron microscopy coupled with energy-dispersive X-ray analysis showed that some MPs were smooth and unweathered while others were more irregular and exhibited significant photo-oxidative and mechanical weathering as well as contamination by extraneous geogenic particles. These characteristics reflect the importance of both local and distal sources to the heterogeneous pool of MPs in precipitated snow. The mean and median concentrations of MPs in the snow samples were not dissimilar to the published mean and median concentrations for MPs in rainfall collected from an elevated location in southwest Iran. However, compared with rainfall, MPs in snow appear to be larger and more diverse in their shape and composition (and include rubber particulates), possibly because of the greater size but lower terminal velocities of snowflakes relative to raindrops. Snowfall represents a significant means by which MPs are scavenged from the atmosphere and transferred to soil and surface waters that warrants further attention.
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