Climate change Livelihoods

Melting arctic ice could soon release nuclear waste, unknown viruses, and deadly pathogens

The rapidly melting arctic ice could soon release nuclear waste, unknown viruses, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a report published in the Nature Climate Change journal has revealed.

The melting arctic ice has been of global concern due to climate change and increasing world temperatures. The melting ice will likely raise sea levels and ecosystems destruction around the world.

However, a new report has found the melting arctic ice could also release chemical and biological hazards that had been safely sealed away.

The scientists identified the hazards could include ancient or undiscovered viruses and bacteria, toxic chemicals, and even nuclear waste. 

The Arctic permafrost has been a hotbed of industrial activity, resource extraction, and even Soviet nuclear tests. This means there’s a whole lot of dangerous garbage lurking inside and waiting to be released if the global heating continues.

The Soviet Union conducted 130 nuclear weapons tests near the surface ocean of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago releasing about 265 megatons of nuclear energy and more than 100 decommissioned nuclear submarines were scuttled in the nearby seas.

Despite a clean-up plan, the area has been highly tested for the radioactive substances cesium and plutonium, between undersea sediment, vegetation, and ice sheets.

The US’s Camp Century nuclear-powered under-ice research facility in Greenland has also produced substantial nuclear and diesel waste.

Waste was left in the accumulating ice posing a longer-term threat to the Greenland Ice Sheet.


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Over 100 different microorganisms in Siberian deep permafrost have been found to be antibiotic resistant. As the ice continues to melt, there is potential for the pathogens to mix with meltwater and generate new antibiotic-resistant strains of existing bacteria.

That could prove disastrous if they were unleashed and started infecting people or other organisms, as we wouldn’t have treatments ready. And it’s not like we’d be facing them one at a time — as the ice melts, microbes from entirely different eras could be released simultaneously.

“This review identifies how other risks can arise from the warming Arctic,” study coauthor and Aberystwyth University researcher Arwyn Edwards said. 

“It has long been a deep-freezer for a range of harmful things, not just greenhouse gases.”

“We need to understand more about the fate of these harmful microbes and pollutants and nuclear materials to properly understand the threats they may pose.

“What should worry us is how much we have still yet to learn about the Arctic, how important it is to all of our futures and why it is worth protecting.” Edwards concluded. 

Also read,

Earth’s inner heat chipping away Antarctic Glacier’, Study Says

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