Thawing of Arctic permafrost may release ancient diseasesDate: 07 July 2020 Tags: Climate Change
Scientists have said the rapidly warming climate in the far north risks exposing long-dormant viruses, which may be tens or even hundreds of thousands of years old, and have been frozen in the permafrost in the Arctic.
Devastating heat-wave has seen temperatures in Siberia reach a record 38C (100.4F), meanwhile, vast fires are burning, releasing huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Due to the rapid heating – the Arctic is warming up at least twice as fast as the rest of the world – the permafrost is now thawing for the first time since before the last ice age, potentially freeing pathogens the like of which modern humans have never before grappled with.
So far researchers have been able to successfully reactivate ancient DNA viruses, but not the more fragile RNA viruses.
RNA viruses include diseases such as Spanish flu and the coronavirus responsible for the current pandemic.
If the viruses come into contact with a proper host then they will reactivate. Human contact with viruses will allow their replication in a matter of time.
Thawing permafrost is also a time bomb: There’s more carbon stored in the permafrost than in the atmosphere. Melting it risks accelerating global warming even further.
The risk was not only due to the thawing permafrost, but also due to the increased human and animal activity in areas which have long been very sparsely populated.
A 2014 study estimates that thawing permafrost could release around 120 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere by 2100, resulting in 0.29°C of additional warming.
The fear is that the thawing will encourage greater excavation in the Arctic. Mining and other excavation projects will become more appealing as the region grows warmer.
Permafrost is a layer of frozen soil that covers 25 percent of the Northern Hemisphere. It acts like a giant freezer, keeping microbes, carbon, poisonous mercury, and soil locked in place.