The team found microplastics in all of the snow samples and three of the electricity samples.
"While the research on Mount Everest has been really exciting and getting the samples has been incredible, you secretly hope you can't find any because you want the environment to be pristine", says Napper.
In this Backstory, Elvin et al. describe the "symphony of logistics" it takes to conduct science on the world's tallest mountain.
Given how far and wide microplastics have spread, both on land and in water, the discovery is not particularly surprising, although it's still shocking.
While a lot of attention has been paid to plastic pollution in the world's oceans, recent estimates have found almost as many synthetic microfibres are amassing on land and in freshwater sources, in large part because of our clothing.
The study has confirmed the presence of microplastics on Mount Everest; however, a clean-up solution is yet to be determined.
Researchers affiliated with the National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition analyzed snow and stream samples from Mount Everest, finding the first evidence of microplastic pollution on a mountain. Samples collected revealed substantial amounts of polyester, acrylic, nylon and polypropylene fibres.
The clothing used by mountaineers in Everest is mostly made of synthetic fabrics. She suspects that these microplastics came from performance clothing and equipment used by climbers and trekkers. For decades, a surging number of annual climbers have left behind remnants of their visit at basecamp and along the mountainside.
Nepalese authorities say that the number of visitors to Sagarmatha National Park, where Everest lies, has roughly tripled in the past 20 years. Climbers often leave waste behind along the route to the top. "Microplastics haven't been studied on the mountain before, but they're generally just as persistent and typically more hard to remove than larger items of debris", says first author Imogen Napper, a National Geographic Explorer and scientist based at the University of Plymouth.
Napper, known to her colleagues as the "plastic detective" for her persistent efforts with which she trails plastic pollution, also said Mt. Everest can be described as "the world's highest junkyard".
"Right now the problem is like an overcrowded bathroom, and instead of continually mopping the floor, we just turn off the tap".
Scientists are only now beginning to measure the damage to wildlife and potential impacts on human health. The scientists found an average of 30 microplastic particles per litre of water in the snow samples and 119 particles per litre in the most contaminated sample.
"We call it tourism pollution".
Figuring a way to clean up these tiny plastics is a whole other problem.
According to a study, traces of microplastics have been found close to the top of Everest. With microplastics so ubiquitous in our environment, it's time to focus on informing appropriate environmental solutions.
"Over the past few years, we have found microplastics in samples collected all over the planet - from the Arctic to our rivers and the deep seas".