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Alert! Greenland's Melting Ice Sheet To Release Cold War-Era Radioactive Waste

Aug 09, 2016 07:15 AM EDT
Frozen meltwater lake along the northeast Greenland coast
Research has suggested that Greenland is melting at a pace quicker than the one earlier models predicted.
(Photo : Flickr/Creative Commons/NASA Goddard Space Flight)

Over the past years, global warming has resulted to rapid ice melting in the Greenland Ice Sheet, the second largest ice body in the world.

This substantially contributed to sea level rise and has changed ocean circulations. Now, researchers from York University have warned that the melting is also increasing our risk of being exposed to toxic waste.

According to the study published in Geophysical Research Letters, the rapid ice melting may unearth nuclear wastes from the abandoned Cold War-era military base located beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Telegraph notes the U.S. camp, which also served as a top-secret nuclear missile testing site, contains gallons of sewage and diesel fuel, and tons of PCBs -- a chemical coolant banned in 1979.

To put it in perspective, the diesel fuel is enough for a car to circle the globe 80 times.

Those were all left fully intact and buried, thinking that it will be forever buried under thick snow.

"Two generations ago, people were interring waste in different areas of the world, and now climate change is modifying those sites," said William Colgan, a climate and glacier scientist at York U and lead author of the new study in a statement.

"It's a new breed of climate change challenge we have to think about."

The researchers said once uncovered, the toxic materials would flow freely to the waters and contaminate the whole site. The researchers added that the impending consequence is inevitable, saying the nuclear wastes are going to come out whether we like it or not, and it's just a matter of time before it happens.

"When we looked at the climate simulations, they suggested that rather than perpetual snowfall, the site could transition from having a buildup of snow to having primarily melting conditions as early as 2090," Colgan said.

"Once the site transitions from net snowfall to net melt, it's only a matter of time before the wastes melt out; it becomes irreversible."

The researchers added that climate change was not thought of the time the toxic wastes were buried, and that the issue threatening the whole world is ambiguous as nobody knows who should be responsible for cleaning up wastes that are already discarded.

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