Integrated European
Long-Term Ecosystem, critical zone and
socio-ecological Research

Microplastics in the snowpack of the LTER Istituto Mosso site, NW Italy

25 January 2023

New research on microplastics using eLTER data has been published. Microplastics (MPs), which are defined as all plastic particles smaller than 5 mm, can create health problems for all living organisms, including humans, due to their very small size. Recent research has shown that, unexpectedly, mountain snowpack can store high amounts of MPs, derived from both atmospheric deposition and local sources (e.g., tourism).

During the 2020-2021 winter, the team investigated the MP content of snow at the high-elevation LTER Istituto Mosso site (NW Italian Alps, 2900 m a.s.l.). We found an average density of 337 particles/L, in line with studies conducted in polluted mountain areas (e.g., European Alps), although much higher than densities found in other remote areas (e.g., Everest; Antarctic). Direct atmospheric fallout was the main driver of MPs deposition, while the influence of local anthropogenic activities was secondary. Indeed, in the winter 2020-2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a limited flow of skiers near the study area, thus reducing the in-situ contamination (e.g., from clothes and ski equipment).

Given the relevance of snow for mountain and lowland ecosystems and the relative proximity of several mountain chains to pollution hot-spots, the potential dangers posed by MPs presence and release by melting snow call on engaging in the matter.

Benech A.1, Colombo N.1,2, Pintaldi E.1, Campanale C.3, Freppaz M.1
1 University of Turin, Department of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences, Grugliasco, Italy
2 National Research Council, Water Research Institute, Rome, Italy
3 National Research Council, Water Research Institute, Bari, Italy

TER Istituto Mosso site