Melting glaciers could be the starting point of the next pandemic | greenist

The starting point for the next pandemic could be one of the viruses in the Arctic Ocean waiting to be released by climate crisis-induced glaciation.

We know that there are many viruses in the Arctic Ocean, most of which have not been discovered by science. These organisms, which have been waiting under the glaciers for millions of years, pose little threat to us or any part of the ecosystem for now, as they are frozen. But melting glaciers opens up the opportunity for these viruses to jump onto a host (human, another animal, a plant or a fungus) and thus continue to multiply and spread.

In a new study, scientists at the University of Ottawa examined how serious this risk was by examining samples from Canada’s Lake Hazen, the largest freshwater north of the Arctic Circle.

DNA and RNA around the lake sediments were tested to understand which species lived in the area. This data was then linked to an algorithm that calculates the probability of viral spread in which a new virus first infects a new host.

The findings showed that the highest risk of viral spread was in areas closest to melting glaciers. Considering that most of the world’s glaciers have thawed due to rising temperatures, it can be safely said that the climate crisis also increases the risk of the spread of new viruses.

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However, the climate crisis will force animals to relocate their habitats further north to the Arctic, where temperatures are cooler. This is another factor likely to increase the likelihood of viral spread.

Stéphane Aris-Brosou, associate professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Ottawa, said in a statement, “If we turn to a comparative analysis, we found that there is an increased risk of viral spread by runoff from melting glaciers. This is representative of the impact of the climate crisis,” he says.

“In the scenario where the climate crisis shifts the species range of potential viral vectors and reservoirs northward, the Arctic Ocean could become fertile ground for emerging epidemics.”

While most of these are considered conjectures for now, this is not a new issue. In 2016, dozens of people were infected with anthrax in Russia’s Yamal Peninsula.

The depths of Siberia were famous for recurrent anthrax epidemics in the early 20th century, but thanks to deer vaccinations and a better understanding of the disease, they are largely a thing of the past. But the origin of this latest outbreak is thought to have been a heatwave that melted the region’s permafrost and exposed an infected reindeer carcass in the Siberian tundra.

Fortunately, the world already knew about the fight against anthrax and the epidemic was under control. But the possibility that melting Arctic glaciers may one day release a new pathogen that human immune systems and medical inventions are not ready to deal with is interpreted as worrying.

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“As both climate change and pandemics reshape the world we live in, understanding how these two processes interact has become critical,” Aris-Brosou says.

You can find the full report here.

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