Melting Ice Awakening Frozen Bacteria

Melting Ice Awakening Frozen Bacteria

Over the last century, due to thorough research and development in antibiotics, human beings have been able to combat issues such as common cold and small pox etc. However, this battle doesn’t end here, as there are researcher who indicate that bacteria and viruses are developing resistance towards antibiotics (Skelly, 2017). To top it all, recent research shows that ancient viruses and bacteria which were buried deep under the ice are coming back to life due to the rapid melting of ice in the snow-capped regions around the world.

Global warming has been claimed to cause rising sea levels and sea temperature but to add to it, rising temperature is also becoming a reason for bacteria and viruses to come alive. Revich and Podolnaya (2011) while monitoring of soil temperatures at the Siberian cryology stations since 1970, has found positive correlation between air temperature and depth of permafrost layer thawing during summers.They have further observed that between the 1900s and 1980s, the temperature of  the surface layer of permafrost increased by 2–4°C. An article by Skelly (2017), has stated that permafrost (frozen soil), that were frozen for thousands of years have started melting, thereby releasing ancient viruses and bacteria that were inactive so far.This event has created quite a stir within the scientific world  and have forced researchers to study probable repercussions.

Skelly in her article cited Jean Michel Claverie who is an evolutionary biologist at Aix-Marseille University in France, said that permafrost have the ability to preserve microbes and viruses, as it is dark, cold and there is no oxygen.Some pathogenic viruses buried here may have the capacity to infect humans or animals. To support Jean Michel’s statement, Skelly mentioned that in a remote place, the Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic Circle a 12-year-old boy died and at least twenty people were hospitalised after being infected by anthrax. The plausible explanation of this incident was that over 75 years ago, a reindeer infected with anthrax died and its corpse got trapped under frozen soil, which was intact until 2016 heat wave after which the anthrax contaminated the water, soil and the food supply (Skelly,2017). There are other findings which suggest that anthrax has been the reason of death for 1.5 million deer in northern Russia between 1897 and 1925 (Revich and Podolnaya, 2011).

There are already several reports show that bacteria, viruses and microbes can be revived despite being frozen, trapped and inactive in the ice. For example, a research conducted in 2005 by NASA Scientists as cited by Skelly in her article suggested that they had successfully revived a microbe named as Carnobacteriumpleistocenium, which was frozen in a pond in Alaska for 32,000 years.After the ice melted, they were active and swimming around unaffectedly. Further these scientists were able to bring alive an 8 million old bacteria that was inactive beneath the surface of Antarctic glaciers( Skelly,2017). Such scientific revelations have led to more such research endeavours. For instance, a study in 2014 led by Claverie, was successful in reviving two viruses named as Pithovirus sibericum and Mollivirussibericum. Their study reported that these viruses were trapped in the Siberian permafrost for 30,000 years, and after they were revived and quickly became infectious to amoebas, but fortunately not to human beings ( Skelly, 2017).

However, such revelations could also make one think that there could be huge number of viruses, still trapped in the permafrost which could affect human beings. With the rapid global warming rate these viruses and microbes, are not very far from getting into the food supply chain. Ghose (2014) cites Claverie, saying that discovery of such trapped bacteria, viruses or microbes may be curable by antibiotics or could also be resistant. Moreover,if the pathogen has not been in contact with humans for a very long time then it could be dangerous for human beings as our immune systems would not be prepared. However, there are other concerns too Goudarzi (2016) in her article has specified that more immediate attention must be brought to the carriers of diseases such as mosquitoes, as with high temperature their chances of survival also increases.

Global temperature rise, Inupiat and melting Alaska

Global temperature rise, Inupiat and melting Alaska

United States is one of the Arctic nations, as Alaska is one of its largest State. Alaska comprises a variety of ecosystems such as glaciers, rain-forest, peat lands, meadows and the tundra. Such a variety has led Alaska to have 16 national wild life sanctuaries and it also includes the largest U.S. National Park, The Wrangell-St. Elias with 13.2 million acres(EPA, 2017).Alaska is not only diverse in terms of its ecosystems but it has 229 recognised tribes.These Alaskan’s are culturally, economically, nutritionally still dependent on natural sources and have continued with fishing, hunting of polar bears, seals, caribou and various other traditional food sources (EPA, 2017). But in the recent years they have been facing problems in finding food due to the global warming.

It has been observed that over the past 60 years Alaska’s average temperature has increased approximately by 3 degrees Fahrenheit and the winters have become warmer by an average of 6 degrees Fahrenheit which has led to tremendous changes in the ecosystems (EPA, 2017). In a recent article by Milman (2018),has reported that the Arctic ocean on the north coast of Alaska froze up regularly by October,but in 2017 it froze only in the last few days of December. Further, he also mentioned an observation made by the Arctic Sea News and Analysis (2018), that the 39- year satellite record in March show that the sea’s ice extent was maximum up to a measure of 14.48 million square kilometers (5.59 million square miles), the second lowest seasonal peak. Such rising temperatures brought the attention of organisations like The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations (NOAA),and are assessing further to understand the extent of the problem.

However, there are other views on rising temperatures. There are notions being presented that rising temperatures in Alaska would provide longer growing season for agricultural crops, increased access to natural resources which are inaccessible due to ice cover and increase in tourism could be a possibility (EPA, 2017). But for the long run such rising temperatures will bring unprecedented environmental changes along with it. Rick Thoman,a climate scientist from NOAA based at Fairbanks, was cited by Milman, who stated that “There’s no reason why this sort of warmth won’t continue. Within the lifetime of middle-aged adults, the Arctic has completely changed.” He added that “The magnitude of change is utterly unprecedented. For a lot of the people who live there, it’s completely shocking.”

In Alaska as mentioned above, higher temperatures and drier conditions would also increase the risk of drought and wildfire. Large wildfires have already started taking place in Alaska and it has been observed that more boreal forest in the last ten years has been consumed due to wildfires (EPA, 2017). Such changes would definitely affect the natives of Alaska’s food resources as fire have the tendency of changing forest habitat, where the conditions for moose and certain plant species would improve but simultaneously reduce lichen on which Caribou rely during winters, hence disrupting the food web cycle (EPA, 2017).

A recent paper by Masih 2018, has stated that the Permafrost in Siberia and Alaska has started to thaw, due to the recent rise in the temperature in the last six decades, and thus the melting ice rates are higher than ever before. His research has found that rising temperature is not only rising the sea levels but its also becoming a reason of increased seismic activity. He further concluded that when glaciers melt, massive weight on the Earth’s crust gets reduced and a process termed as “isostatic rebound” happens due to the crust bouncing back. This, process reactivates the faults and pressurises the magma chambers which increase the seismic activity. His paper discusses the correlation between rise in temperature due to global warming and its effect on earthquake frequency pertaining to the region of Alaska.

Hence, this research by various scientists showcase the vulnerability of the residents of Alaskan’s not only in terms of infrastructural stability which is in question but also the unprecedented situations that are bound to come in future.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Effort in Combating Ocean Acidification

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Effort in Combating Ocean Acidification

Industrial revolution in the last two centuries has completely changed the Earth’s environment. This can be attributed to, increase in the rate of deforestation, higher consumption of fossil fuels and incessant rise of emission levels that has led to higher concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. It has been well established that CO2 is responsible for global warming and its effect is well documented all over the world.

Research has shown that CO2 is also responsible for acidification of oceans. Oceans are good absorbers of CO2 as these are capable of absorbing 30 per cent of the CO2 released in the atmosphere.  As CO2 gets absorbed by sea water, series of chemical reactions take place which increase the concentration of hydrogen ions and make sea water more acidic and further cause decrease in carbon ions (NOAA, 2013). Such changes in the ocean chemistry is bound to cause deep impact to the variety of species in it. There are reports which suggest that higher levels of acidic conditions is going to affect the shelled species. Carbonate ion is an important building component of shelled species, such as oysters, clams, sea urchins, corals and calcareous planktons present in the sea water and it has been revealed that decrease in carbonate ion in the sea water can make these species vulnerable (NOAA, 2013). For example, “sea butterfly” (also known as pteropod) eaten by a variety of species like krill and whales, when placed by researchers in sea water with carbonate levels projected for the year 2100, found that their shells dissolved in just 45 days (NOAA, 2013). This study also found that pteropods in the Southern Ocean, which encircles Antarctica has already shown signs of dissolution of pteropod shells.

A study by Morley and Day (2013) has shown that chances of CO2 getting dissolved is more in cold water and hence all the species in colder water are at a greater risk with increased acidification of oceans in colder region.  They further state that calcium carbonate saturation is low in the Polar Regions and that shallow waters around Antarctica would be the first to face under saturation of carbonate ions. Another research published in Nature Climate Change has found that ocean acidification is spreading in terms of area and in depth at a rapid pace in the Western Arctic Ocean and is potentially affecting the food web as also the communities that depend on these resources. Between the years 1990 and 2010 acidified waters has been expanding northward 300 nautical miles towards the north western Alaska (Qi et al., 2017). Hancock et al. (2018) from a recent study, state “near-shore microbial communities are likely to change significantly near the end of this century if anthropogenic CO2 release continues unabated, with profound ramifications for near-shore Antarctic ecosystem food webs and biogeochemical cycling. Quoting, Wei- Jun Cai based at University of Delaware, a study by  NOAA (2017), “The Arctic Ocean is the first ocean where we see such a rapid and large-scale increase in acidification, at least twice as fast as that observed in the Pacific or Atlantic oceans,” Such a plightfull situation has made scientists to focus their research that could work towards finding a solution.

NOAA has initiated the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory with Marine research institute in Iceland to research more about high the latitude ocean acidification in the Atlantic Ocean. Further NOAA has installed moored buoys to research on the amount of carbon dioxide in the ocean environment in the north of Arctic Region (NOAA, 2013). Hence, such innovative research and high level of monitoring is a necessity to providing accurate data towards a solution which would be able to combat ocean acidification.

Melting antarctic glaciers and barriers to curb them, an excerpt from news reports.

Melting antarctic glaciers and barriers to curb them, an excerpt from news reports.

Climate change and its effect has been a great source of concern for scientists and environmental protagonists from all over the world.

The conundrum of rise in sea level due to melting of glaciers with the rising temperature of earth have led many scientists to study its impact on the coastal regions of various continents.Climate scientists who have been working on Antarctic ice sheet have predicted that if whole of this ice sheet melts, it would contribute to around 50 metres rise in sea level(Harvey, 2018). Further, they have mentioned that currently Antarctica is losing its ice at a rate which is three times faster than what it used to be six years ago.These high melting rates pose a huge threat to all the continents closer to the Antarctic region.An article by Satherley (2018), has stated thatthe impact of Antarctic glacial melt would have an adverse effect on New Zealand. The predictions suggest that if all of the Antarctic glacier melts, itwould cause submergence of central Aukland, regions like Hamilton and Tauranga would be underwater and Newmarket, Epsom and Mt Roskill would be peeking out of the flood.

Scientists are working on geo-engineering solutions to overcome such overwhelming challenges in the near future. They have come up with an idea of building a wall using rock and sand from the sea floor. An article published in the Cryosphere Journal, from the European Geosciences Union, stated that this barrier would help to hold back the glaciers from meltingas the warm water would not get mixed underwater (Wolovick and Moore, 2018).

This idea seems unrealistic to many, but as per the researchers this may be the only chance of gaining some extra time to combat the global warming and rising sea levels. Wolovick, who is a researcher in Atmosphere and Ocean sciences programme from the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University stated that the structure of the wall is still being designed.However, they plan to keep it very simple through piling of gravel or sand on the ocean floor. Further, he also stated that “the designs are within plausible human achievements”.

Harvey (2018), in her article has cited Wolovick and Moore’s work who have mentioned in their paper that building this wall successfully would require the height of the barrier to be at least 300m and the materials to be around 0.1 to 1.5 cubic km thick.The authors of the Cryosphere report have opined that creating such enormous glacier barriers will need a lot of hard work and enthusiasm from people and from variousengineering fields. Executing such a gigantic project could take a few decades at the least.

Building a barrier or a wall is just one of the ways to the quest of a challenging journey of reducing glacial melt. There is a need of more such innovative geoengineering ideas to help curb natural calamities in the near future.

References:

1.Wolovick M.J and J.C. Moore, 2018. Stopping the flood: could we use targeted geoengineering to mitigate sea level rise?,The Cryosphere, 12, 2955-2967.

2.Harvey F., 2018.Build walls on seafloor to stop glaciers melting, scientists say, The Guardian, September ,20

3. Satherley D.,2018. Antarctica Melts: The impact on New Zealand, Newshub, June, 14

Scientists find pocket of warm water trapped under Arctic with potential to melt entire ice pack

Scientists find pocket of warm water trapped under Arctic with potential to melt entire ice pack

Scientists have discovered warmer water that originated hundreds of miles away has penetrated deep below the ice pack’s surface.

Vast swathes of the polar expanse are changing dramatically every year – with sea ice vanishing far earlier in the season that it used to, and ships beginning to take advantage of the newly ice-free oceans.
images3-300x154

This effect could be exacerbated in one of the Arctic Ocean’s major regions – known as the Canadian Basin – by the influx of warmer water that is currently stored underneath it.

Using data collected over the past 30 years, researchers at Yale University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution saw the “heat content” of the area had doubled during this period.

“This means the effects of sea-ice loss are not limited to the ice-free regions themselves, but also lead to increased heat accumulation in the interior of the Arctic Ocean that can have climate effects well beyond the summer season,” said Yale geologist Professor Mary-Louise Timmermans, who led the study.

“Presently this heat is trapped below the surface layer. Should it be mixed up to the surface, there is enough heat to entirely melt the sea-ice pack that covers this region for most of the year.”

This research was published in the journal Science Advances.

The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the global average, and year after year bodies like the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report record-breaking climate extremes in the region.

Last year saw the lowest ever measurements for maximum winter sea ice cover across the Arctic, and the second warmest air temperatures on record.

These changes have caused havoc for the people and animals that inhabit the polar region.

Almost all the ice covering the Bering Sea in the northern Pacific Ocean vanished a month early this year, impacting the hunting and fishing activities of the inhabitants of western Alaska.

The recent breakup of the “last holdout” of thickest ice in the Arctic was described as “highly unusual” by scientists.

This breakup is an unsettling sign of climate change, and experts warned that it would likely have a serious impact on the region’s polar bears and seals.

They were able to trace this water to the Chukchi Sea further south, where the regional decline in sea ice has left the water very exposed to the summer sun.

After heating up, this water has been driven north by Arctic winds, but has remained below the top layer of water – resulting in a high-temperature zone trapped far beneath the ice pack.

Container ship crosses Arctic route for first time in history due to melting sea ice

Container ship crosses Arctic route for first time in history due to melting sea ice

A commercial container ship has for the first time successfully navigated the Northern Sea Route of the Arctic Ocean, a route made possible by melting sea ice caused by global warming.

Maersk Line, the world’s biggest container shipping company, told The Independent its ship, Venta Maersk, was expected to reach its final destination of St Petersburg next week.

The new ice-class 42,000 ton vessel, carrying Russian fish and South Korea electronics, left Vladivostok, in the far east of Russia, on the 23 August.

With help from Russia’s most powerful nuclear icebreaker, it followed the Northern Sea Route up through the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska, before travelling along Russia’s north coast and into the Norwegian Sea.

The route has seen growing traffic during summer months already, with cargos of oil and gas regularly making the journey.

Arctic sea ice hit a record low for January this year, and an “extreme event” was declared in March as the Bering Sea’s ice levels reached the lowest level in recorded history as temperatures soared to 30C above average.

Data released by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado showed this winter’s sea ice cover was less than a third of what it was just five years ago.

The Northern Sea Route can cut journey times between Asia and Europe by up to two weeks by allowing ships to avoid travelling through the Suez Canal or past the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

The Arctic Ocean route does, however, remain more costly as icebreakers are still required to accompany ships.

In an email to The Independent, Maersk confirmed the success of the “one-off trial passage”, with icebreaker ships providing assistance “as required”.

“The trial passage will enable us to explore the operational feasibility of container shipping through the Northern Sea Route and to collect data,” a spokesperson said.

“Currently, we do not see the Northern Sea Route as a commercial alternative to our existing network.”

Sune Scheller, project leader of Greenpeace Nordic, told The Independent any regular shipping route in the Arctic Ocean ultimately risked an “environmental catastrophe”.

“The most immediate threat comes from some of the problems with the fuel,” he said.

“Maersk hasn’t spoken about which kind of fuel this [ship] is using, but in general container ships are using heavy fuel oil, which is basically what’s left in the barrel.”

Mr Scheller said the “dirty fuel” had “consequences” for the environment, including adding to particulate matter in the atmosphere.

Also known as black carbon, particulate matter rests on white surfaces like ice and snow and absorbs heat instead of reflecting it, which contributes to climate change.

According to The Economist, “just 15 of the biggest ships emit more of the noxious oxides of nitrogen and sulphur than all the world’s cars put together”.

“It’s also of a concern in case of an accident,” Mr Scheller continued. “It is more toxic and it is more difficult to get out of the environment again, especially an Arctic environment where the water is cold.”

A combination of the use of heavy fuel oil, the shallow water of the Arctic Ocean, and the ice makes the Northern Sea Route one of “increased risk” of a catastrophe, he added.

But as global warming increases ice loss, Mr Scheller said banning commercial shipping in the area was unlikely to be a realistic possibility.

“What’s important now is that you make sure that when this becomes available, you have the necessary regulation in place in the area,” he said.

“So that means you have vessels that are capable of charting this area, But it’s also about putting bans on the most dirty types of fuels that exist.”

Global estimates suggest ships are responsible for 15 per cent of nitrogen oxides and 8 per cent of sulphur gas worldwide. These gases have been linked with a range of health problems including asthma, heart disease and cancer.