According to recent research, deep beneath the Arctic's permafrost hides Cold War-era nuclear waste and deadly viruses that might soon be exposed to the surface due to rapid-melting ice.
According to a team of scientists from Aberystwyth University, climate change could result in losing up to two-thirds of the Arctic's near-surface permafrost by 2100, as the region warms at three times the world average.
Old Nuclear Tests
The researchers point to the Soviet Union's 130 nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere between 1995 and 1990, leaving large quantities of radioactive chemicals behind.
Hundreds of microorganisms, as well as nuclear waste, are presently trapped in the ice.
Releasing Molecules Previously Frozen
As the permafrost thaws, these bacteria may mingle with meltwater, resulting in new antibiotic-resistant strains of existing viruses.
According to research published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, more than 100 bacteria in deep permafrost have already been shown to be antibiotic-resistant.
If the nuclear waste is discharged, it may be hazardous to humans and animals, and if the thousands-year-old viruses escape from their ice prison, they could be harmful to civilization.
According to the Observer Research Foundation, melting permafrost in Siberia uncovered a 70-year-old reindeer corpse infested with anthrax in 2016, killing a kid and infecting many others.
In the Arctic, permafrost, or permanently frozen terrain, spans around nine million square miles.
The bulk of Arctic permafrost dates back to about 1 million years, and the deeper its depth, the older the era from which it came.
Everything from microorganisms to chemical compounds may be found under permafrost, enclosed in an ice cage for millennia.
'Changes in the Arctic's climate and ecology will impact every region of the world as it feeds carbon back to the atmosphere and raises sea levels,' said Dr. Arwyn Edwards, Reader in Biology at Aberystwyth University and primary author of the study.
'This study examines how new dangers may develop as the Arctic warms. It's been a deep-freezer for various hazardous substances, not only greenhouse gases, for a long time.
'To adequately grasp the risks posed by these hazardous microorganisms, contaminants, and radioactive materials, we need to learn more about their fate.'
Two hundred twenty-four different explosive devices were employed in the Russian nuclear tests, releasing about 265 megatons of atomic energy.
More than 100 decommissioned nuclear submarines were abandoned in the neighboring Kara and Barents seas.
In 1961, the country conducted a test of its Tsar Bomba device over the Barents Sea, which detonated with the force of 50 million tons of conventional explosives, or 3,333 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb.
'While the Russian government has since begun a comprehensive clean-up effort, the assessment highlights that the area has tested strongly for the radioactive elements cesium and plutonium, between underwater sediment, flora, and ice sheets,' according to a news statement from the researchers.
With its nuclear-powered under-ice research center in Greenland, the United States has also contributed to nuclear waste under permafrost.
The plant was shut down in 1967, allowing trash to pile up beneath the ice.
Permafrost is the sole thing preventing these hazardous pollutants from escaping.
Seeping Back to the Ecosystem
Another danger is the introduction of by-products of fossil fuels into permafrost ecosystems since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Natural metal reserves, such as arsenic, mercury, and nickel, were also found in the Arctic, mined for decades, and contaminated tens of millions of hectares with trash.
If these chemicals are released from the permafrost, they might cause food scarcity by harming the animals and fish that people rely on for sustenance.
Along with nuclear waste, the hazardous chemicals would emit additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing considerably to climate change.
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