Mount Everest is home to amazing views, historic feats of endurance and now, unfortunately, microplastics.
Plastic is one of the great scourges on our environment, infesting almost every terrain due to our reliance on the material, whether it be clothes or other packaging.
Earlier this year, researchers found 14 million metric tons of microplastics are covering areas of the ocean floor. That was the bottom of the sea, and now microplastics have been found at the top of the world.
At 8,848m tall, Mount Everest was once deemed insurmountable. Of course, we know now that many people have reached the peak, turning it into somewhat of a tourist attraction for experienced hikers.
However, the mountain is suffering under the weight of climate change. Global warming has seen the surface of the ice at base camp in Nepal drop 150ft lower than 35 years ago. Other areas on Everest, once thought safe from melting, are becoming more and more endangered.
In addition, the uptick in human footfall has its own direct consequences. At heights of 27,700ft, the mountain’s snow is laced with microplastics.
While they’re almost naked to the human eye in small amounts, they’re particularly difficult to clean up and often fade from the more mainstream conversations about plastic waste.
Imogen Napper, a marine scientist who analysed the snow samples at a University of Plymouth lab, told National Geographic:
The concentrations on the mountain are surprising. It is somewhere I still consider to be one of the most remote and pristine areas on Earth. We have now found it from the bottom of the deep sea, all the way to nearly the summit of the highest mountain on Earth.
With regards to the contrast between larger waste clean-up and microplastics, Napper said, ‘These actions are necessary and important… solutions need to expand into deeper technological and novel advances’.
A number of new research papers were recently published in the One Earth journal, looking at the effects of man and climate change on Everest and the surrounding area. This came after an interdisciplinary team of more than 30 scientists collected samples from all across Nepal’s Khumbu Valley last year.
In a jar filled with snow from near the summit, collected by glaciologist Mariusz Potocki, curly fibres of microplastics were found. The material on the mountain is mostly attributed to the synthetic clothing of climbers.
According to the publication, a single gram of synthetic clothing can release 400 microplastic fibres during every 20 minutes of use. Over the course of a year, if wearing a coat weighing around 2lb, this would add up to a billion fibres every year. Unfortunately, while single-use plastics have been banned from the mountain, microplastic pile-ups are expected to continue.
Paul Mayewski, expedition leader and director of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine, said, ‘It’s a real wake up call. Despite the fact that the region is very high-elevation, it’s being impacted seriously’.