There’s nothing like staring through a microscope for a few hours to make a person feel like a hunchback. It’s worth it though, to see things that you could never see otherwise, even if those things are made of plastic. This past week I’ve been able to get into the lab to process the water samples collected during last year’s 3 Rivers Expedition and while the results have been sobering, they were not entirely unexpected. There is plastic (mostly filaments but also a scattering of tiny fragments), in every sample and the quantities increase the farther downstream you go.
Red, blue and green fibers, along with darker colors that mostly appear to be black, have been the most common, although I did see one filament that was a bright purple in the light from the scope. Then, after looking at each sample in the white light, I make the switch to UV to find the clear ones, the pieces that don’t show up at all. It seems weird to say but when the UV light hits these, they often fire up like neon and the result is almost beautiful. Coils and strands of fine, glowing poly-somethings, like alien intruders in the watery world, which is precisely what they are. Like nothing you’ll see elsewhere, these microscopic pieces of plastic are captivating, in their way. Silent, tiny and everywhere.
Look for preliminary results to be posted by the end of the week and an expedition summary by the end of the month.