A New Global Warming Threat: Future Pandemics Await Us in Melting Polar Ice

Pathogens can survive centuries and 1918 influenza is just one of many pandemics that previously killed millions lurking below the melting ice

A New Global Warming Threat: Future Pandemics Await Us in Melting Polar Ice

Pandemics are great – as long as you’re reading a novel about scientists battling to save the human race, or perhaps playing the very popular board game in which players work together as various types of specialists to save the world.

We may be facing just such a scenario thanks to the effects of global warming, and it won’t be fun and games:

As the BBC reports, “Long-dormant bacteria and viruses, trapped in ice and permafrost for centuries, are reviving as Earth’s climate warms.”

Frozen permafrost soil is the perfect place for bacteria to remain alive for very long periods of time, perhaps as long as a million years. That means melting ice could potentially open a Pandora’s box of diseases.

Repeated pandemics contributed to the collapse of the Roman Empire. These including The Antonine Plague of 165–180 AD and the more famous Justinianic Plague of the sixth to eighth centuries which may have claimed as many as 100 million people.

The Black Death devastated Europe, killing perhaps two-thirds of the population, and the 1918 influenza pandemic (the Spanish flu virus) killed between 20 and 40 million people worldwide, more than were killed in the war itself.

Terrible as that pandemic was, it isn’t gone. Not really. Just frozen. And now thawing. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports they have found it living in mass graves in Alaska and as The New York Times reported as far back as 1998, in Norwegian permafrost too, just a few feet below the living.

Our immune systems aren’t familiar with these long-gone pathogens, say experts. You can imagine what that means.

What this tells us is that erratic weather, rising sea levels and poisoned air and water are not necessarily the most dangerous threats posed by the global warming the Trump administration has just decided doesn’t officially exist.

Photo of permafrost: By Hannes Grobe 21:12, 26 October 2007 (UTC) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

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