Study permafrost: thaw could release bacteria and viruses; scientists alarmed, World News


In the Arctic, in the far north of Sweden, about 10 kilometers east of the small town of Abisko, global warming is happening three times faster than in the rest of the world.

Researchers are studying the frozen earth, which is now changing shape, known as permafrost. Permafrost, or permanently frozen ground, covers approximately 23 million square kilometers in the northern hemisphere.

Most of the Arctic’s permafrost is up to a million years old. Usually, the deeper it is, the older it is.

The study found that the rapid thawing of permafrost in the Arctic has the potential to release antibiotic-resistant bacteria, viruses that have not been discovered. It can also release radioactive waste from nuclear reactors and Cold War submarines.

A distinct odor was observed from hydrogen sulfide, sometimes known as swamp gas. However, scientists fear that another gas will rise with it, namely methane.

Between carbon dioxide and methane, permafrost contains approximately 1,700 billion tonnes of organic carbon. This is almost double the amount of carbon already in the atmosphere.

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It was discovered that the implications of permafrost decline could be much broader, with the potential for the release of bacteria, unknown viruses, nuclear waste and radiation, and other chemicals of concern.

The research, which was recently published in Nature Climate Change, describes how deep permafrost, at a depth of over three meters, is one of the few environments on Earth that has not been exposed to modern antibiotics.

More than 100 diverse microorganisms in the deep permafrost of Siberia are resistant to antibiotics.

With this, it is possible for these bacteria to mix with the meltwater. This will create new strains resistant to antibiotics.

Another risk includes fossil fuel byproducts. This has been introduced to permafrost environments since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

The Arctic contains natural deposits of metals, including arsenic, mercury and nickel, which have been mined for decades. This caused enormous waste contamination over tens of millions of hectares.

There is also a great potential for transporting pollutants, bacteria and viruses.

Over 1,000 settlements, including resource extraction, military and science projects, have been created on permafrost over the past 70 years. The combination of the local population increases the likelihood of accidental contact or release.

Johansson, of the Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science at Lund University, said: “In this active layer, where measurements started in 1978, we have seen it grow from seven to 13 centimeters (2, 8 and 5 inches) thicker each decade. “

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“This freezer that has kept plants frozen for thousands of years has stored carbon which can then be released as the active layer thickens,” she adds.

There are also fears that the Amazon rainforest may turn into a savannah or that the ice caps atop Greenland and West Antarctica may melt entirely.

“If all the frozen carbon were released, it would almost triple the carbon concentration in the atmosphere,” Gustaf Hugelius of Stockholm University, who specializes in permafrost carbon cycles, told AFP.

“But that will never happen,” he adds quickly.

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