The Melting of Permafrost and its Potential Lasting Effects

The current pandemic has inflicted relentless harm and destruction on the United States along with the rest of the world. It is hard to say when it will end and the extent of the damage it will cause. However, Covid-19 might just be the beginning. Scientists believe that Climate Change is harming more than just our environment at the present. In fact, as the permafrost blanketing the Artic continues to melt, not only will it release immense amounts of CO2 and methane, but potentially threatening microbes as well.

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What is Permafrost and why is this a foreseeable issue?

Permafrost is a thick layer of soil that remains frozen throughout the year, occurring predominantly in polar regions. It houses frozen microorganisms and many fossil fuels. What’s so threatening about this notion is that microbes do not need the complete thawing of the ice to come back to life. In the article, “Scientists Fear Ancient Diseases Could Be Released by the Melting Arctic,” by Zach Boren, a writer for Green Peace, he talks about this phenomena with climate scientist, Dr Romanovsky. Romanosky stresses that “part of the material that has been frozen for thousands of years is no longer continuously frozen.” The thawing of this ice has only just begun and will continue to gradually escalate in speed over the next few decades. He continues to warn that, “these microbes – awakened from their long slumber – may take the opportunity to move towards the taliks, where it’s less likely to refreeze.” Most of the apparent viruses being concealed by the frost are ones that scientists already know of. This includes Smallpox, the Plague, and Anthrax and they all already have associated vaccines or antibiotics. However, there are already cases of this happening. In 2016 a child died in Russia due to an outbreak of anthrax that scientists said seemed to have spawned from the corpses of infected reindeers buried 70 years prior.

Potential viruses aren’t the only problem

In the article, “As Permafrost Melts It’s Unleashing Ancient Viruses, Carbon – And Now Fuel Spills,” by Jean-Philippe Chognot, she suggests, “Locked into the permafrost is an estimated 1.7 trillion tonnes of carbon in the form of frozen organic matter.” This soil contains roughly, “twice as much carbon – mainly in the form of methane and CO2 – as Earth’s atmosphere.” As the frost begins to warm up and thaw, this matter begins to decompose releasing carbon and methane into the atmosphere. “The melting permafrost,” Chognot continues to state, “also presents a serious and costly threat to infrastructure, risking mudslides and damage to buildings, roads and oil pipelines.” Carbon and methane are already showing apparent degradation to the atmosphere and our environment. Another factor outputting greenhouse gases will immensely increase the pre-existing threat.

Sources:

Zach Boren @zdboren, et al. “Scientists Fear Ancient Diseases Could Be Released by the Melting Arctic.” Unearthed, 3 July 2020, unearthed.greenpeace.org/2020/07/03/arctic-permafrost-pandemic-life-uh-finds-a-way/.

Jean-Philippe Chognot, AFP. “As Permafrost Melts It’s Unleashing Ancient Viruses, Carbon – And Now Fuel Spills.” ScienceAlert, 7 June 2020, http://www.sciencealert.com/as-permafrost-melts-ancient-viruses-and-now-fuel-spills-are-being-unleashed.

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