Microplastics are transported in the natural environment by a wide range of processes and as a consequence are found in all environments, from the highest mountains to the deepest oceans, in urban environments and polar ice caps. Recently it has been demonstrated that microplastics can be transported in the atmosphere by wind, and can fall-out with precipitation (Allen et al. 2019; Brahney et al. 2020). This study will analyse rainfall and cloudwater from an observatory in the north of England (Holme Moss), to look for microplastic and nanoplastic contamination. Holme Moss lies to the east of major urban conurbations, Merseyside, and Greater Manchester. The dominant wind direction is onshore, from west to east, across these urban areas, before rising up the Pennines into the Peak District national Park. A pilot study has demonstrated the presence of both microfibres and small microplastic particles in both rainfall and cloud water. These microplastics are falling out into an area of the National Park dominated by peat uplands which act as the catchment area for major rivers, such as the Goyt, Etherow and Tame, which merge to form the Mersey, known to be heavily contaminated by microplastics (Hurley et al. 2018; Woodward et al. 2020). Pilot studies of one of the small tributaries draining Holme Moss, Crowden Brook, show a large number of microplastics in a relatively unspoilt upland area.
This study therefore aims to assess the role of atmospheric transport of microplastics, their precipitation as orographic rainfall, and pathways into the river system as well as longer-term storage in peat accumulations. The study will involve field-based data collection and the development of new sampling methods for microplastic collection in peat. Laboratory separation and chemical analyses of microplastics will determine the range of potential source areas. The study may potentially be expanded to other sites. Results of the study will be analysed within the context of governance and the public perception of their impact, mitigation efforts, and the role of stakeholders in the plastic industries, as well as waste management and water treatment.
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