Investigation: Microplastics in Snow

If we collect four 64 oz mason jars of snow at the Drinkwater School from the beach, garden, woods, and the tree line near our stream in March, let it melt, and then use a vacuum pump to filter the water and look under the microscope, how many pieces of microplastic fibers and fragments would there be, if any, and how do the four sites compare?

Instructions / How to do this investigation


Edna Drinkwater School

Northport, Maine



  1. Gather tools
  2. Don’t wear polyester, if possible.
  3. Label mason jars ahead of time: key for location and sample number




Sample collection:

  • Gloves (not plastic)
  • 64 oz mason jars x 8
  • Metal spoons or measuring cups (don’t put in plastic, use glass or metal)
  • Warm gear/ boots
  • Anemometer
  • Data table
  • Clipboard
  • Pencil
  • Camera


Filtering tools:

  • Vacuum pump
  • Tube for vacuum pump
  • Filter funnel for vacuum pump (with lid)
  • Funnel support base for vacuum pump
  • Flask (1000 mL)
  • Filters (5 micron)
  • Metal forceps
  • Petri dishes
  • Tape
  • Sharpie
  • Microscope
  • Lab coats (100% cotton so as not to contaminate)  




Step 1: Gather sample collection tools


Step 2: Label the mason jars with location, and sample number. 


Step 3: Plan out groups to collect samples in different locations


Step 4: Dress warmly


Step 5: Walk to location (be careful where you collect the data so you are only

collecting fresh snow and so as not to contaminate the sample)


Step 6: Use anemometer to record temperature and wind speed (meters/second) in data table


Step 7: Use metal scooper to pick up snow samples


Step 8: Put snow samples into properly labeled mason jar until it’s at 1750 mL (in liquid form, will reduce to around 500 mL)


Step 9: Put the lid on


Step 10: Record the physical characteristics of the snow (Snowflakes, Graupel, Polycrystals)


Step 11: Record the type of precipitation (Blizzard, Snowstorm, Snow flurry, Snow squall


Step 12: Take a photo of the location


Step 13: Repeat with other locations


Step 43: Put the sample inside the classroom, preferably in a refrigerator


Step 15: Let the sample melt


Step 16: Use a weather almanac website and a map to record the following data for each snowstorm:

  • Date
  • Quantity of snowfall (cm)
  • Duration of snowfall
  • Direction of storm/wind
  • Any bodies of water the storm passed over in its path





  1. Put on lab coat
  2. Check oil on side of pump for level to be in between minimum and maximum 
  3. Connect tube onto brass tube twist 
  4. Attach flask to tube
  5. Remove blue top
  6. Put blue base of filter container into flask 
  7. Carefully pick up a 5 micron filter with forceps
  8. Put filter onto container right side up, making sure it’s flat and centered
  9. Put top section of filter back onto the base, making sure the magnetic pressure does not move the filter in the inside
  10. Take lid off of container
  11. Make sure all samples have the same amount of water to filter (500 mL) and pour extra out as needed
  12. Pour 500 mL water sample into container 
  13. Put lid back on
  14. Turn on pump 
  15. Run until water has filtered through entirely
  16. Once finished, use metal forceps to remove filter
  17. Carefully place into petri dish
  18. Add colored tape to edges of sample to hold down filter inside petri dish 
  19. Tape close two sides of petri dish
  20. Record sample number and location on tape on cover of petri dish, making sure not to block sample from view.



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