Microplastics Are Wafting in on the Sea Breeze
Last month, researchers discovered surprisingly high concentrations of microplastics on the seafloor. And now, a paper published in PLOS ONE Tuesday finds the ocean is spitting some of them back in our faces in the form of the sea breeze.
"We keep putting millions of tonnes of plastic into the ocean every year," study co-leader and University of Strathclyde Ph.D. candidate Steve Allen told The Guardian. "This research shows that it is not going to stay there forever. The ocean is giving it back to us."
The study is the first to show microplastics being released into the atmosphere by the ocean itself. The researchers found up to 19 microplastic pieces per cubic meter of air along the Bay of Biscay in France, Wired reported. They also demonstrated in a lab how the popping of bubbles could fling microplastics into the air.
Microplastics are just the latest addition to the messy bursting of ocean bubbles, the researchers explained.
"That bubble actually acts as like a sponge for tiny particles like sea salt, viruses, bacteria, and—potentially—plastics, as it comes up through the water column," University of Strathclyde microplastic researcher and co-study leader Deonie Allen told Wired. "So the outside of that bubble is now sort of coated in particles."
When the bubble pops, those particles shoot into the air.
All this means you may have to reassess your idea of a sea breeze. The researchers estimated the ocean spray ejects 136,000 tons of microplastics every year.
"Sea breeze has traditionally been considered 'clean air' but this study shows surprising amounts of microplastic particles being carried by it," Steve Allen told The Guardian. "It appears that some plastic particles could be leaving the sea and entering the atmosphere along with sea salt, bacteria, viruses and algae."
The research challenges a wide consensus about what happens to plastics once they reach the ocean.
"Current plastic pollutant research has generally assumed that once plastics enter the ocean they are there to stay, retained permanently within the ocean currents, biota or sediment until eventual deposition on the sea floor or become washed up onto the beach," the researchers wrote.
But this hypothesis doesn't explain the "missing" plastic, Deonie Allen told The Guardian. She said the amount of plastic on the seafloor was actually less than would be expected given all the plastic that enters the oceans.
If plastic is moving from the ocean to the air, this could have implications for the climate, Wired explained.
Particulate matter from the sea can "seed" clouds, or gather enough moisture to form a fluffy white cloud. If microplastics can do this also, that could lead to whiter clouds that reflect more of the sun's heat.
"So that'll have a positive effect for us for climate change," Steve Allen told Wired.
But there's a catch.
"It'll gather the moisture that's in the air, and not produce rain," he said. "That rain can move somewhere else. So we would get rain somewhere it doesn't belong, and we don't get rain where we need it."
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By Ilana Cohen
Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
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