Ancient Organisms Re-emerge in the Arctic

Finnian Waldron
As polar ice caps melt, long-dormant, unknown microbes begin to stir.

With effects such as rising temperatures, rising seas, stronger hurricanes, and much more, global warming has threatened the planet for decades. Melting ice caps and permafrost pose yet another problem: microbes and bacteria, entombed in ice for centuries, perhaps millennia, are beginning to emerge. 

The consequences of allowing these microbes to emerge have already been observed, as in the deadly Anthrax outbreak in Siberia resulting from melting permafrost. Many of the organisms deeper in the ice could be much older, however, dating back as far back as the Pleistocene era, also known as the Ice Age.

In an interview with BBC in 2017, Jean-Michel Claverie warned that "Permafrost is a very good preserver of microbes and viruses because it is cold, there is no oxygen, and it is dark. Pathogenic viruses that can infect humans or animals might be preserved in old permafrost layers, including some that have caused global epidemics in the past." The re-emergence of such organisms could lead to pandemics in the future.

While these microbes could be incredibly dangerous to human life, global warming poses a threat to the microbes' own existence and that of other organisms that make up arctic soil. Currently, the poles are warming four times faster than the rest of the globe, which, scientists project, could lead to a drastic change in the microbial constitution of arctic soil, the environmental effects of which are largely unknown. 

With permafrost and ice caps melting, perhaps the ominous threat of ancient viruses awakening in the arctic and threatening to cause future pandemics could lend more attention and gravity to the climate crisis. Whether or not this heightened attention will be enough to avert future catastrophes remains to be seen.


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  • Editors & Writers

    Avani Lakkireddy
    Quinn Luce
    Vineeth Mothe
    Charlotte Park
    Amrit Siam
    Finnian Waldron