University explores impact of climate change and microplastic pollution in Antarctic

Scientists from the University of Plymouth are involved in an international scientific expedition investigating how climate change is impacting the Antarctic continent, the role of the Southern Ocean in climate mitigation and the long-range atmospheric transport of contamination.

The Antarctic Quest 21 mission, led by explorer Paul Hart, will install and upgrade instrumentation that provides geophysical data essential to the refinement of sea-level predictions. They will also measure snowfall and collect snow samples from completely isolated and unvisited areas of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Some of those samples will then be analysed at the University to investigate the long-range atmospheric transport of microplastics and the concentration of metals.

The expedition has been inspired by one of Britain’s most admired explorers, Sir Ernest Shackleton, who set out on his own science expedition 100 years ago this year, but sadly died before he could begin his scientific work.

In a fitting tribute to Shackleton, the expedition team will mark the date of his passing with a commemoration service on the Antarctic ice, reflecting his importance in the history and the beginnings of scientific exploration of the Antarctic continent.

Dr Charlotte Braungardt

Dr Charlotte Braungardt

Dr Charlotte Braungardt, Associate Professor in Environmental Science at the University, is serving as the expedition’s scientific adviser. She said:

“This is without question an ambitious undertaking that will encounter challenges similar to those faced by the expeditions of Shackleton’s time. The data obtained during the expedition and transmitted for years to come from installed equipment will help the scientific community to refine models and reduce the uncertainty in predictions of the impact of climate change on our coastlines and communities. It will also enhance our understanding of our impact on the planet in one of the few areas still largely untouched by the human population. This will support the development of solutions that prevent, mitigate and adapt.”

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