Recent studies reveal that tiny pieces of plastic are constantly lofted into the atmosphere. These particles can travel thousands of miles and affect the formation of clouds, which means they have the potential to impact temperature, rainfall, and even climate change.
Plastic has become an obvious pollutant over recent decades, choking turtles and seabirds, clogging up our landfills and waterways. But in just the past few years, a less-obvious problem has emerged. Researchers are starting to get concerned about how tiny bits of plastic in the air, lofted into the skies from seafoam bubbles or spinning tires on the highway, might potentially change our future climate.
“Here’s something that people just didn’t think about — another aspect of plastic pollution,” says environmental analytical chemist Denise Mitrano of ETH Zürich University, in Switzerland, who co-wrote an article last November highlighting what researchers know — and don’t yet know — about how plastics can change clouds, potentially altering temperature and rainfall patterns.
Clouds form when water or ice condenses on “seeds” in the air: usually tiny particles of dust, salt, sand, soot, or other material thrown up by burning fossil fuels, forest fires, cooking, or volcanoes. There are plenty of these fine particles, or aerosols, in the skies — a lot more since the Industrial Revolution — and they affect everything from the quality of the air we breath, to the color of sunsets, to the number and type of clouds in our skies…