As the realities of climate change continue to become more apparent, the consequences of our inconsiderate treatment of the planet continue to grow. As of late, the abundance of heat which we continue to contribute to the atmosphere is leading to an unsurprising event: Ice is melting faster than ever before recorded. What is surprising about this, is what’s trapped inside the ice: Ancient bacteria and various.
Frozen in stasis, these prehistoric killers are many times more deadly than anything we deal with on a regular basis in the modern world. Traces of things like the Bubonic plague, Anthrax, and SARS may be indefinitely frozen in the layers of ice which are actively melting away because of our increased activity on the planet. With our disease resistance at an all-time low, how might we fare against these super-bugs?
Well, we may soon find out. In the Artic Circle, one boy died and at least twenty more people were made sick by an infection of anthrax. How? It’s possible that, many years ago, a reindeer infected with anthrax died, and was frozen into growing layers of soil. As the permafrost thawed this summer, that virus spread: to water, soil, and the food supply of nearby reindeer.
The permafrost, pictured above, is a tremendous harbor for dormant bacteria and viruses. Normally, the temperature of the Earth is not enough to melt this permanent frost, but as the climate warms, it could open up a whole slew of new (old) diseases.
What does this mean? In any area with permafrost, which has experienced a disease outbreak, a potential for reinfection may be lurking. From the Spanish Flu of 1918, to Smallpox, to even more unknown disease agents. A study in 2005 was able to revive bacteria that had been frozen in a pond for over 32,000 years.
Tetanus and Botulism are two more bacteria capable of surviving extreme temperatures. Like Anthrax, they form spores capable of being frozen in permafrost, ready to revive at the first sign of thawing.
The diversity of deadly virus and bacteria life is stunning, occurring in places as far-removed as these selenite caves in Mexico:
So how dangerous is this? Scientists seem to disagree. While one side thinks that the risks of permafrost bacteria and viruses are unknowable (and therefore not much to worry about), Claverie offers a different perspective: