Janice Brahney, a chemist at Utah State University, set out to study how dust carried on the winds brings nutrients to ecosystems. She collected samples from weather stations in remote spots around the U.S.
When she looked through her microscope at samples gathered from wilderness areas and national parks, she saw plastic.
She used weather data to see where the particles were coming from. Following the path of storms 48 hours before they crossed over her test sites, she found that storms that passed over large cities carried more particles than others. Through mathematical analysis of samples, she determined that storms passing from the east through Denver dropped 14 times more microplastic into Rocky Mountain National Park than storms that come from other directions.
However, most of the particles are not deposited by storms, she found, but as fine dust that settles out of dry air. Much of the plastic dust is circulated by high-altitude winds and may be picked up anywhere in the world, floating around the globe for long periods before coming to ground.
Ultimately, Brahley and her research team calculated that an average of 132 pieces of microplastic drop onto every square meter of wilderness every day. As a result, national parks and protected areas of the western U.S. are covered each year with about 1,000 tons of microplastic debris, the equivalent of 300 million plastic bottles.
TRENDPOST: Because plastic dust is invisible to the eye, most people feel little distress about creating a plastic topsoil over the Earth that eventually enters the ground and is taken up in the crops we eat and the plants that feed animals and, eventually, us.

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