Radioactive waste and new viruses could be released by the melting of Arctic permafrost — soil that is frozen year-round — a new study has revealed.
The study was co-authored by Dr. Arwyn Edwards from Aberystwyth University in Wales. It was published in the Nature scientific journal and detailed in a report by the Independent newspaper.
"The Arctic cryosphere is collapsing, posing overlapping environmental risks. In particular, thawing permafrost threatens to release biological, chemical and radioactive materials that have been sequestered for tens to hundreds of thousands of years," the study said. "As these constituents re-enter the environment, they have the potential to disrupt ecosystem function, reduce the populations of unique Arctic wildlife and endanger human health."
The study also noted that the Soviet Union, between 1955 and 1990, ran 130 nuclear weapons tests on the Novaya Zemlya archipelago off the coast of northwest Russia, according to the Independent.
About 265 megatons of nuclear energy were released by the tests and more than 100 decommissioned nuclear submarines were scuttled in the Kara and Barents seas.
Nuclear and diesel waste were also produced by the U.S. Camp Century nuclear-powered under-ice research facility in Greenland.
In addition, the deep permafrost remains one of the few spots on Earth that has not been exposed to modern antibiotics, the study said.
Over 100 microorganisms in the deep permafrost have been found to be antibiotic-resistant, the study noted. And the potential exists for these bacteria to mix with meltwater and release new antibiotic-resistant strains of existing viruses as the permafrost melts, the study said, according to the Independent.
Edwards said the Arctic "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.
"These are new implications in addition to what we knew would happen if permafrost continued to melt."
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