Melting ice in the Arctic could unleash 100,000 TONNES of pathogens, study warns 


Will the next pandemic come from a GLACIER? Melting ice in the Arctic could unleash 100,000 TONNES of potentially harmful pathogens into rivers and lakes, study warns

  • Experts used climate model to predict impact of moderate rise in CO2 emissions
  • More than 100,000 tonnes of microbes could be released from Earth’s glaciers 
  • This includes both potentially harmful and beneficial microbes

While it’s widely believed the virus behind the Covid-19 pandemic came from an animal, a new study has warned that the next pandemic could come from a glacier.

Researchers have warned that more than 100,000 tonnes of microbes could be released as the world’s glaciers melt.

This includes both potentially harmful and beneficial ones, according to the team from Aberystwyth University.

Researchers have warned that more than 100,000 tonnes of microbes could be released as the world’s glaciers melt

The Arctic is warming nearly FOUR TIMES faster than the rest of the world 

The Arctic is warming nearly four times faster than the Earth’s average. 

Researchers analysed multiple datasets from the likes of NASA and the Met Office about Arctic Circle temperatures between 1979 and 2021. 

They found a large proportion of the Arctic Ocean warmed at a rate of 1.35°F (0.75°C) per decade during this period, nearly four times faster than the global average. 

Previous studies report that the Arctic is warming either twice, more than twice or three times as fast as the globe on average. 

These estimates have generally been reported in the literature and in the media, but they are ‘significant underestimations’, even though they’re based on ‘state-of-the-art’ computer models, the authors say. 

Temperatures are warming faster in the Arctic than the rest of the world largely because of the loss of sea ice.

When bright and reflective ice melts, it gives way to a darker ocean. This amplifies warming because the ocean surface absorbs more heat from the sun than the surface of snow and ice.

In their study, the researchers examined surface meltwaters from eight glaciers across Europe and North America, and two sites in western Greenland.

Using a climate model, the researchers estimated what the impact of a moderate rise in carbon emissions would be.

Their results revealed that more than 100,000 tonnes of microbes could be released from the glaciers and enter the wider environment.

For context, that’s the equivalent to an average of 0.65 million tonnes per year of microbes entering rivers, lakes, fjords and oceans across the northern hemisphere over the next 80 years.

Dr Tristram Irvine-Fynn from Aberystwyth University said: ‘Melting glacier ice surfaces host active microbial communities that contribute to melting and biogeochemical cycling, and nourish downstream ecosystems; but these communities remain poorly understood.

‘Over the coming decades, the forecast ‘peak water’ from Earth’s mountain glaciers means we need to improve our understanding of the state and fate of ecosystems on the surface of glaciers.

‘With a better grasp of that picture, we could better predict the effects of climate change on glacial surfaces and catchment biogeochemistry.’

Worryingly, the researchers say the impact of further glacial melting may be ‘significant’.

‘These important findings build on much of our previous research here in Aberystwyth,’ Dr Arwyn Edwards from Aberystwyth University added.

‘The number of microbes released depends closely on how quickly the glaciers melt, and therefore how much we continue to warm the planet.

‘But the mass of microbes released is vast even with moderate warming.

‘While these microbes fertilize downstream environments, some of them might be harmful as well.’

Using a climate model, the researchers estimated what the impact of a moderate rise in carbon emissions would be. Their results revealed that more than 100,000 tonnes of microbes could be released from the glaciers and enter the wider environment

Using a climate model, the researchers estimated what the impact of a moderate rise in carbon emissions would be. Their results revealed that more than 100,000 tonnes of microbes could be released from the glaciers and enter the wider environment

The study comes shortly after researchers from the Finnish Meteorological Institute in Helsinki found that the Arctic is warming nearly four times faster than the Earth’s average. 

Researchers analysed multiple datasets from the likes of NASA and the Met Office about Arctic Circle temperatures between 1979 and 2021. 

They found a large proportion of the Arctic Ocean warmed at a rate of 1.35°F (0.75°C) per decade during this period, nearly four times faster than the global average. 

Previous studies report that the Arctic is warming either twice, more than twice or three times as fast as the globe on average. 

These estimates have generally been reported in the literature and in the media, but they are ‘significant underestimations’, even though they’re based on ‘state-of-the-art’ computer models, the authors say. 

Temperatures are warming faster in the Arctic than the rest of the world largely because of the loss of sea ice.

When bright and reflective ice melts, it gives way to a darker ocean. This amplifies the warming trend because the ocean surface absorbs more heat from the sun than the surface of snow and ice.

WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF LOWER SEA ICE LEVELS?

The amount of Arctic sea ice peaks around March as winter comes to a close.

NASA recently announced that the maximum amount of sea ice this year was low, following three other record-low measurements taken in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

This can lead to a number of negative effects that impact climate, weather patterns, plant and animal life and indigenous human communities.

The amount of sea ice in the Arctic is declining, and this has dangerous consequences, NASA says

The amount of sea ice in the Arctic is declining, and this has dangerous consequences, NASA says

Additionally, the disappearing ice can alter shipping routes and affect coastal erosion and ocean circulation.

NASA researcher Claire Parkinson said: ‘The Arctic sea ice cover continues to be in a decreasing trend and this is connected to the ongoing warming of the Arctic.

‘It’s a two-way street: the warming means less ice is going to form and more ice is going to melt, but, also, because there’s less ice, less of the sun’s incident solar radiation is reflected off, and this contributes to the warming.’ 



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