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Is microplastic so small, light, and broadly present that it can be transported in the atmosphere? Can it then be deposited on the ground with snowfall, in areas almost unpolluted by human activity? This is the main research problem of my master’s thesis:

Micro-plastic deposition on glaciers and seasonal snow cover in high mountain areas.

Sounds scary? I am already simplifying. Deposition: it is the process of moving and sedimentation loose materials. Translating the topic into simpler language: Can microplastic be transported in the atmosphere and then returned to earth with snow fall and rain?

What is microplastic? Read here. 

Where did you get the snow for research?

For my master’s thesis, I took snow samples from four locations:

  • The High Tatra’s in Poland
  • Kitzsteinhorn in Austria
  • Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (Africa)
  • South Svalbard

My master’s thesis is pioneering in the field of microplastic research. So far, there’ve been only a few scientific researches that deal about its presence in the high mountains. That’s why I want to share it with you on this blog.

Are we living in a plastic era? Read here. 

Location of four places where I've collected samples for master's thesis.

Have you been to all these places or did someone provide you samples?

It’s so great that in my master’s degree I was able to combine my passion for mountains with science. I visited all the previously mentioned places and personally took samples for research. Individual journeys will be described in detail in separate articles.

Time for some facts and curios about each of the mountain areas I’ve visited. I focused especially on Kilimanjaro and Svalbard because they’re by far the most “exotic” destinations.

Kilimanjaro – Tanzania

  • The highest mountain in Africa – 5,895 m. It’s also the highest solitary standing massif in the world – the height difference from base to summit is 4,600 m.
  • It’s an extinct volcano that consists of three peaks:
    Shira, Mawenzi and Kibo – Its culmination is Uhuru Peak (the peak of freedom). In its southern part there is a 2 km wide and 300 m deep crater. Research has shown that only about 400 m below the crater there’s magma. It’s the only peak with an ice cap that has been ablated (melted) intensively over the past decades. By 2007, 85% of the ice that was still covering the mountain in 1913 had disappeared.
  • The first person to climb Kilimanjaro, or more precisely Freedom Peak, was the German geographer Hans Meyer, along with professional climber – Austrian Ludwik Putscheller and local guide Yohani Kinyala Lauwo. They did it on 5th October 1889.
  • In 1899 the first hiking trail was mapped out and in 1932 the first mountain chalet was built.
  • It’s estimated that approximately 50,000 tourists visit the Uhuru Peak annually. This number does not include local guides and porters, so the number of real visitors to the national park is much higher.
  • Tourism unfortunately has many negative effects on the natural environment of Kilimanjaro National Park. Much of the original rainforest that covered the volcano’s slopes was cleared. In addition, the great increase in the popularity of tourism, numerous rubbish, toilets, and human excrement cause a bad picture. More and more often Kilimanjaro is not referred to as a “white mountain” but as a “trampled mountain”.
Mountain Kilimanjaro

Kitzsteinhorn – Austria

  • Kitzsteinhorn is located in the Hohe Tauern National Park. There are over 300 mountain peaks over 3000 m above sea level in its area. In the park one can also find 342 glaciers with a total area of 170 km2.
  • The first person to reach the top of the Kitzsteinhorn was a local climber: Johann Entacher. He did so in 1828.
  • There is a year-round winter sports center in the Kitzsteinhorn area. There are numerous ski lifts here. Under the peak, at the altitude of 3029 m above sea level there is a restaurant with a panoramic terrace.
  • On 11th November 2000, a tragedy occurred in the ski area. A fire broke out in a 3295 m long tunnel with a cable car to the glacier. 155 people were killed.
Skiing center of Kitzsteinhorn

The High Tatra’s – the Valley of the Five Polish Ponds

  • One can find the highest located mountain shelter in Poland there.
  • The Tatra National Park ranks first among European alpine parks in terms of visitors per unit area – unfortunately it’s extremely crowded.
  • In the area of the valley, many legible forms have been preserved that indicate the presence of glaciers in the past.
Tatra's mountains - 2nd highest peak - Lomnicky Scit

Svalbard – around the Hornsund fjord (check my stunning 3 minutes video)

  • The Hornsund fjord is located in the southern part of the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, which is part of the Svalbard archipelago. It is located approx. 1000 km north of the Scandinavian Peninsula and approx. 1000 km south of the North Pole.
  • On the archipelago there live more polar bears than humans. For this reason, one must carry a rifle and know how to use it in an emergency.
  • Hornsund is the most glacial Spitsbergen fjord with large exiting valley glaciers leading to the sea.
  • The phenomenon of permafrost occurs throughout Spitsbergen. Under a small active layer of the ground, the rocks have a negative temperature all year round.
  • Snow samples for microplastic deposition studies were collected at five locations. Both at sea level (Paierlbreen and Hambergbukta) and above, in the mountains (Fugleberget, Rasstupet and Progessorryggen).
Svalbard - area near to Horsund fiord where I've collected snow samples.
  • The phenomenon of polar day and polar night occurs here. The polar day, when the sun doesn’t set below the horizon, lasts from 22nd April to 21st August (121 days). The polar night, when the sun does not rise above the horizon, lasts from 29th October to 12th February (106 days).
  • Since 1957, on the northern shore of the Hornsund fjord, at the Bay of the White Bear (Isbjørnhamna), there has been a Polish Polar Station, Later named after Stanisław Siedlecki, the leader of the first expedition.
  • The area around the Hornsund fjord is still a place that is hardly accessible to humans. Certainly, there are many places where a human foot has not yet stood.
Horsundfiord seen from mountain Professorryggen

Here you can read more about my expedition to Svalbard. 

Do you think microplastic can occur in all of those places? Write in the comment.