Plastic snow falling in the Arctic

Plastic pollution has reached one of the most remote places on Earth: the Arctic. That is according to two separate studies released last week which found tiny plastic particles, known as microplastics, in Arctic snowfall and frozen within the sea ice.

A study by German and Swiss scientists found that snow falling in the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard contained as many as 14,400 particles of plastic per litre.

They said it was likely the particles were being blown in from populated areas thousands of miles away, before being trapped in snow and falling to Earth.

Meanwhile, a US-led team of researchers discovered plastic particles frozen within arctic sea ice, after spending 18 days collecting ice core samples in the remote Northwest Passage.

"We're seeing plastics of different colours, different geometries, these beads and the filament,” said Brice Loose, chief scientist of Northwest Passage Project, which led the study.

“For us it was kind of a punch to the stomach to see what looked like a normal sea ice core in such a beautiful pristine environment but just chock-full of this material which is completely foreign to the environment."

Microplastics are plastic fragments less than 5 mm in length, produced by the breakdown of larger plastic debris.

They have been found in the soil, air, oceans and even bottled drinking water, though scientists say more research is needed to determine their effects on health and the environment.