It sounds like the plot of a disaster film, but scientists say it’s all too real. With areas of the Arctic thawing out at a record pace amid global warming, there’s a possibility that pathogens currently frozen in ice could be released into the environment. Theoretically, this could result in the spread of a disease that mankind hasn’t seen in millennia.
Should you be worried?
Let’s be realistic — there are probably some more pressing environmental issues in the works that should keep you up at night before this one. Nevertheless, we can add the threat of reanimated viruses to the expanding list of problems that could result from global climate change.
If an ancient pathogen comes into contact with a modern-day host, there’s simply no way of predicting how the two will react. Some of the world’s brightest scientific minds are exploring the data to determine how likely a novel outbreak might actually be.
What the experts are saying
There seems to be a greater likelihood that an ancient virus will spread from one species to another as the temperature increases since the currently frozen sediment will be able to travel from glaciers to lakes, where pathogens will wear down the immune systems of the animals living therein. At least that’s what the science suggests.
University of Ottawa biology professor Stephane Aris-Brosou is one of the foremost experts on the relatively recent threat, and she acknowledges that there’s a lot we still don’t know.
“We’re not able to say we are going to have serious pandemic issues in the High Arctic,” she explained. “It’s absolutely impossible to predict this kind of event.”
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t really make me feel better.