We've known for a long time that microplastics are a concern, but new research keeps highlighting just how bad they are for the ecosystem and our health.

Microplastics have been discovered for the first time in Antarctica's snow, according to a new study. The discovery could imply that microplastics, which develop as plastics decompose, are wreaking havoc on marine habitats, climate, and organisms.

Until now, data from Antarctic snows has been mostly absent, despite the fact that microplastics have already been discovered in the region's deep-sea sediments, marine sediments, seas, and surface waters.

"The implications of microplastics reaching remote regions such as Antarctica are vast," the study, published in the European Geosciences Union journal The Cryosphere, emphasized. "Antarctic organisms have adapted to extreme environmental conditions over many millions of years, and the rapid environmental changes ... are threatening the unique ecosystems."

Between Nov. 30 and Dec. 2, 2019, researchers gathered 19 samples from various locations on Ross Island, Antarctica. Suspected microplastics were chemically identified at a lab in New Zealand, six from areas near research stations and 13 from "remote locations with minimal human disturbance."

Microplastics were discovered in all samples, with 109 particles confirmed in all 19 field samples.

"Microplastics may accelerate melting of the cryosphere when present on snow and ice in alpine or polar regions," the study said. "Microplastics may further influence climate by acting as cloud ice nuclei in the atmosphere."

Microplastic consumption by Antarctic krill could have a severe influence on "the entire Antarctic food chain," according to the authors.

Microplastics have also been detected in the diets of higher polar predators such as gentoo, Adélie, chinstrap, and King penguins. Emperor penguins are also threatened by pollution, "with current models predicting a population decline of 81% by 2100."

Winds that swept north across local bases are the most plausible short-term source of microplastics in the majority of the samples. Microplastics driven into the snow from neighboring oceans are the most likely source at places where the wind path does not pass any manned stations.

"Critically, the average concentration of microplastics found in this study are higher than in the surrounding Ross Sea and those reported in East Antarctic sea ice," the study said.

Microplastics are exceedingly persistent, making removal from the environment where they accumulate nearly impossible. Because of their durability and the chemicals they are formed of, research indicates that they can be extremely harmful to the creatures with which they come into contact, including reduced feeding, poisoning, and increased mortality.