Not only is climate change likely to blame for kickstarting a “zombie” anthrax outbreak in western Siberia, but it is now causing an abandoned and buried Cold War nuclear missile facility to rear its head through an ice sheet and pollute the regional environment, having been hidden for around 50 years. Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up.
The base, which was home to biological, nuclear, and chemical material, can be found in northwestern Greenland, although not easily – the team had to use powerful, ground-penetrating radar from NASA’s Operation IceBridge to locate it.
“The base and its wastes were abandoned with minimal decommissioning in 1967, under the assumption they would be preserved for eternity by perpetually accumulating snowfall,” the team write in their Geophysical Research Letters study. However, due to the relentless and accelerating march of man-made climate change, the world is warming, and the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else.
As a result of this, this base is now being exposed to the world, and a slew of radioactive coolant fluid, 200,000 liters (53,000 gallons) of diesel fuel, 240,000 liters (63,000 gallons) of sewage, and a whole bunch of toxic construction chemicals are leaching into the ice sheet. Based on the team’s climate change models, the vulnerable ice sheet will melt so quickly in the near future that all of these toxic substances will be able to escape by 2090.
“Once the site transitions from net snowfall to net melt, it’s only a matter of time before the wastes melt out; it becomes irreversible,” lead author William Colgan, an assistant professor at York University in Toronto, said in a statement. If it leaks into the oceans, marine ecosystems may be seriously disrupted.
Violin Glacier, in northern Greenland. By the end of the century, it will have dramatically shrunken. Credit: NASA