Climate Change: Our Greatest National Security Threat?

The climate century is upon us: the earth is warming, humans are to blame, and we must take immediate action now to prepare for climate change’s massively disruptive consequences. Indeed, both the congressionally-mandated 2018 National Climate Assessment (NCA) and United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changereports make clear that the window to take collective action to reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions is shrinking. And advances in the field of climate attribution science demonstrate that climate change plays a major role in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

No longer can climate change be categorized solely as an environmental issue—it is a grave threat to national security. Indeed, it may be the threat. While there are many national security challenges facing the nation and the world, climate change is an aptly described “super wicked” problem that exacerbates and accelerates already existing threats. It is also manifestly unjust. In a cruel irony, the poorest nations of the world that contributed the least to global warming will bear the brunt of climate change’s impacts. What we, as a society, choose to do (or not do) now will define the health and welfare of future generations. Their fate is increasingly shaped by climate change’s dramatic, erratic, and catastrophic national security effects.

This article explains our current predicament and offers three reasons to hope that we may yet be able to address climate security.

We must think bigger and bolder about the national security threats posed by climate change

Beyond what we can read in the best peer-reviewed climate scientific reports, we can see firsthand climate change’s massively destabilizing effects. Consider the damage to national security infrastructure at military bases this last hurricane season, costing taxpayers billions and harming military readiness.

Consider, too, climate change’s outsized impact in the Arctic region, opening up new maritime trade routes, oil and gas extraction, and the looming potential for a heavily militarized Arctic region. And what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic: permafrost and methane emissions significantly harm the environment while causing significant sea level rise throughout the world. Ice-free Arctic summers are coming soon.

How fast is the ice melting in the Arctic? If we are honest, we don’t truly know. Past estimates of warming and ice loss in the Arctic have been widely underestimated. Indeed, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) reported that the Arctic has 3-5 degrees Celsius of warming locked inirrespective of future greenhouse gas mitigation effort. Make no mistake: we need to be prepared for a physically transformed Artic region in our lifetime, however fast the ice melts.

White House Climate Inaction Fueled by Denialism 

Yet the current Administration has stepped backwards in the face of its own government’s best peer-reviewed science, the collective wisdom of the international scientific community, and the already-evident physical destruction wrought by climate change. Unfortunately, the United States is increasingly an international climate-outlier: it has already announced its intent to withdraw from the near universally-ratified Paris Climate Agreement (that the last administration played a leading role in negotiating) and has failed to advance a meaningful domestic climate agenda. Indeed, it has effectively stepped away from the world’s climate leadership stage and has removed all mention of climate change from both the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy.

It wasn’t always this way. In 1991, then-President Bush assessed that climate change “respects no international boundaries” and contributes to political conflict in his 1991 National Security Strategy.  Climate change has been consistently mentioned in national security policy guidance since then.  Recently, the White House took the remarkable step of proposing the creation of a closed-door task force to determine the validity of the National Climate Assessment’s national security discussion.

But outside the executive branch — if you look closely enough — the climate landscape is shifting. If our political will can align with our scientific understanding, then a solution to the “super-wicked” climate security problem may just be possible. Consider the following three areas that provide hope in our fight against climate change.

  • The Intelligence Community and Military Strike Back

The intelligence and national security communities have begun to speak up louder and actively engage with the world’s most authoritative climate science reports in their own threat assessments.  Earlier this year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) issued a new, clear-eyed threat assessment report that highlighted climate change’s destabilizing effects. It stated that the “negative effects of environmental degradation and climate change will impact human security challenges, threaten public health, and lead to historic levels of human displacement.” Specifically, the ODNI report noted:

global environmental and ecological degradation, as well as climate change, are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond.  Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security.

The intelligence community—composed of sober-minded, non-partisan professionals—brings enormous credibility and perspective when weighing the complex security threats facing the nation.

Further, congressional hearings on climate security continue to occur at a steady pace.  Just last week, General David L. Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, cited the conflict in Syria as an example of how climate change’s impact is already destabilizing some nations. His remarks came two days after the commanders of U.S. European Command and U.S. Transportation Command voiced similar views before Congress.  The military has the responsibility to prepare for future threats, however defined—this includes climate change.

  • Congress Awakens

Congress, too, has slowly awoken from its climate slumber, including provisions in the yearly National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that address climate adaptation efforts within DoD. It recently required that DoD report on military installations especially vulnerable to climate change. While the details of the DoD report fell shortof expectations, it signaled congressional willingness to actively engage on this issue.  Congress also addressed climate adaptation efforts, recently placing restrictions on military construction in the riskiest floodplain areas.

Earlier this week, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel (former Senators and Secretaries of State and Defense, respectively) testified in front of the House Oversight Committee on the national security implications of climate change. We should look for more action in the climate security space as Congress holds hearings on climate change’s national security impacts and looks to include provisions in the annual DoD budget bill.

Finally, the Green New Deal – though it may not be on a fast track to becoming law – does not shy away from climate change’s security implications, explicitly stating that climate change:

constitutes a direct threat to the national security of the United States . . .by impacting the economic, environmental, and social stability of countries and communities around the world and by acting as a threat multiplier.

While Congress has yet to pass comprehensive legislation that would require the United States to meet the emission reduction goals the last administration set in joining the Paris Agreement — and the Obama-era Clean Power Plan was halted by the Supreme Court — the groundwork may be in the process of being laid for such action in the national security arena.

  • Innovative Legal Solutions to Combat Climate Change

As a general matter, most of our domestic law environmental statutes suspendenvironmental protections for reasons of national security. For example, the Clean Air Act—the major environmental statute governing EPA regulation of carbon dioxide and other Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions—authorizes the President to suspend regulation of stationary sources (such as coal-fired power plants) if it is in the “paramount interest of the United States” to do so.

But what if climate change is the underlying emergency and we needed greater authorities to decrease GHG emissions?

While there is no “break glass in case of climate emergency” statute, Congress has delegated broad powers to the President possesses in the 1976 National Emergencies Act. In the aftermath of President Trump’s emergency declaration to build a border wall, commentators have begun to speculate that future Presidents could use similar legal authorities to declare climate change a national emergency. The term “emergency” is undefined in law. Moreover, there should be little debate that as a scientific matter, climate change does present an extraordinary threat to the security of the United States. There are certain authorities that could potentially be actuatedpursuant to a “climate emergency” declaration, from reducing oil drilling to restricting car emissions to investing in climate adaptation measures. While I do not argue for this approach at this time, we must begin to think innovatively about all the legal authorities available.

Internationally, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has shown a renewed willingness to discuss climate change’s multifaceted impacts on peace and security.  Under Article 39 of the UN Charter, the UNSC has special authorities to “determine the existence of any threat to the peace, [or] breach of the peace.” While the UNSC has not (yet) formally declared climate change a threat to international peace and security — thereby actuating legal authorities under Chapter VI and VII — scholars have begun to assess the implications of doing so.

David Wallace-Wells, in his recent book the Uninhabitable Earth, foreshadows a world where tens of millions of climate refugees flee drought, food insecurity, and extreme weather. Yet these “climate refugees” lack legal protections, including under the 1951 Refugee Convention. How should international law account for and safeguard future refugees fleeing from the disruptive effects of climate change? And if you are a citizen of a small island developing state that may not be habitable due to climate change, what is a more pressing issue facing you?  The Security Council may yet need to step in to resolve some of these vexing questions.

Looking Ahead

Let me be clear: we need domestic climate legislation, re-entry into the Paris Climate Agreement, and massive governmental investment in renewable energy technology before we actuate these innovative climate legal solutions. However, there is some good news:  we have made enormous strides in clean energy technology in recent years and climate denialism and inaction policy have helped energize the electorate. The technology is there; but the political will among our current leaders is not.

And in a twist of fate, the United States cannot formally withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement until November 4, 2020—one day after the next Presidential election.  Whether climate change is on the ballot as a core issue in 2020 still remains to be seen.  But the electoral landscape, too, may be changing.  Governor Inslee of Washington is seeking the Democratic nomination based upon a climate change platform and Mayor Pete Buttigeig spoke at length about the climate security challenge in his announcement for his Presidential bid on Sunday, explicitly stating“let’s pick our heads up to face what might be the great security issue of our time, climate change and disruption.”

As I have argued before, climate change cannot be wished away and we are already paying a “do nothing” climate tax on our economy and environment. Indeed, if “we are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it” we must meet the climate century head on. It’s time to get moving on climate action. If not now, when?

Sea Creatures Store Carbon in the Ocean – Could Protecting Them Help Slow Climate Change?

April 17, 2019
File 20190415 147502 15sm3nq.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A sperm whale goes down for a dive off Kaikoura, New Zealand. (Photo by Heidi Pearson, CC BY-ND)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As the prospect of catastrophic effects from climate change becomes increasingly likely, a search is on for innovative ways to reduce the risks. One potentially powerful and low-cost strategy is to recognize and protect natural carbon sinks – places and processes that store carbon, keeping it out of Earth’s atmosphere.

Forests and wetlands can capture and store large quantities of carbon. These ecosystems are included in climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies that 28 countries have pledged to adopt to fulfill the Paris Climate Agreement. So far, however, no such policy has been created to protect carbon storage in the ocean, which is Earth’s largest carbon sink and a central element of our planet’s climate cycle.

As a marine biologist, my research focuses on marine mammal behavior, ecology and conservation. Now I also am studying how climate change is affecting marine mammals – and how marine life could become part of the solution.

A sea otter rests in a kelp forest off California. By feeding on sea urchins, which eat kelp, otters help kelp forests spread and store carbon. (Photo by Nicole LaRoche, CC BY-ND)

What is marine vertebrate carbon?

Marine animals can sequester carbon through a range of natural processes that include storing carbon in their bodies, excreting carbon-rich waste products that sink into the deep sea, and fertilizing or protecting marine plants. In particular, scientists are beginning to recognize that vertebrates, such as fish, seabirds and marine mammals, have the potential to help lock away carbon from the atmosphere.

I am currently working with colleagues at UN Environment/GRID-Arendal, a United Nations Environment Programme center in Norway, to identify mechanisms through which marine vertebrates’ natural biological processes may be able to help mitigate climate change. So far we have found at least nine examples.

One of my favorites is Trophic Cascade Carbon. Trophic cascades occur when change at the top of a food chain causes downstream changes to the rest of the chain. As an example, sea otters are top predators in the North Pacific, feeding on sea urchins. In turn, sea urchins eat kelp, a brown seaweed that grows on rocky reefs near shore. Importantly, kelp stores carbon. Increasing the number of sea otters reduces sea urchin populations, which allows kelp forests to grow and trap more carbon.

Scientists have identified nine mechanisms through which marine vertebrates play roles in the oceanic carbon cycle. (Image by GRID ArendalCC BY-ND)

Carbon stored in living organisms is called Biomass Carbon, and is found in all marine vertebrates. Large animals such as whales, which may weigh up to 50 tons and live for over 200 years, can store large quantities of carbon for long periods of time.

When they die, their carcasses sink to the seafloor, bringing a lifetime of trapped carbon with them. This is called Deadfall Carbon. On the deep seafloor, it can be eventually buried in sediments and potentially locked away from the atmosphere for millions of years.

Whales can also help to trap carbon by stimulating production of tiny marine plants called phytoplankton, which use sunlight and carbon dioxide to make plant tissue just like plants on land. The whales feed at depth, then release buoyant, nutrient-rich fecal plumes while resting at the surface, which can fertilize phytoplankton in a process that marine scientists call the Whale Pump.

And whales redistribute nutrients geographically, in a sequence we refer to as the Great Whale Conveyor Belt. They take in nutrients while feeding at high latitudes then release these nutrients while fasting on low-latitude breeding grounds, which are typically nutrient-poor. Influxes of nutrients from whale waste products such as urea can help to stimulate phytoplankton growth.

Finally, whales can bring nutrients to phytoplankton simply by swimming throughout the water column and mixing nutrients towards the surface, an effect researchers term Biomixing Carbon.

Fish poo also plays a role in trapping carbon. Some fish migrate up and down through the water column each day, swimming toward the surface to feed at night and descending to deeper waters by day. Here they release carbon-rich fecal pellets that can sink rapidly. This is called Twilight Zone Carbon.

These fish may descend to depths of 1,000 feet or more, and their fecal pellets can sink even farther. Twilight Zone Carbon can potentially be locked away for tens to hundreds of years because it takes a long time for water at these depths to recirculate back towards the surface.

‘Marine snow’ is made up of fecal pellets and other bits of organic material that sink into deep ocean waters, carrying large quantities of carbon into the depths.

Quantifying marine vertebrate carbon

To treat “blue carbon” associated with marine vertebrates as a carbon sink, scientists need to measure it. One of the first studies in this field, published in 2010, described the Whale Pump in the Southern Ocean, estimating that a historic pre-whaling population of 120,000 sperm whales could have trapped 2.2 million tons of carbon yearly through whale poo.

Another 2010 study calculated that the global pre-whaling population of approximately 2.5 million great whales would have exported nearly 210,000 tons of carbon per year to the deep sea through Deadfall Carbon. That’s equivalent to taking roughly 150,000 cars off the road each year.

A 2012 study found that by eating sea urchins, sea otters could potentially help to trap 150,000 to 22 million tons of carbon per year in kelp forests. Even more strikingly, a 2013 study described the potential for lanternfish and other Twilight Zone fish off the western U.S. coast to store over 30 million tons of carbon per year in their fecal pellets.

Scientific understanding of marine vertebrate carbon is still in its infancy. Most of the carbon-trapping mechanisms that we have identified are based on limited studies, and can be refined with further research. So far, researchers have examined the carbon-trapping abilities of less than 1% of all marine vertebrate species.

The brownish water at the base of this humpback whale’s fluke is a fecal plume, which can fertilize phytoplankton near the surface. Photo taken under NMFS permit 10018-01. (Photo by Heidi Pearson, CC BY-ND)

A new basis for marine conservation

Many governments and organizations around the world are working to rebuild global fish stocks, prevent bycatch and illegal fishing, reduce pollution and establish marine protected areas. If we can recognize the value of marine vertebrate carbon, many of these policies could qualify as climate change mitigation strategies.

In a step in this direction, the International Whaling Commission passed two resolutions in 2018 that recognized whales’ value for carbon storage. As science advances in this field, protecting marine vertebrate carbon stocks ultimately might become part of national pledges to fulfill the Paris Agreement.

Marine vertebrates are valuable for many reasons, from maintaining healthy ecosystems to providing us with a sense of awe and wonder. Protecting them will help ensure that the ocean can continue to provide humans with food, oxygen, recreation and natural beauty, as well as carbon storage.

Dog Saved By Workers On Oil Rig, 135 Miles Off Thai Coast

Exposing the Big Game

The rescued dog appeared to be growing stronger on the oil rig before he made his journey back to shore.

Vitisak Payalaw

Workers on an oil rig about 135 miles offshore from southern Thailand noticed something stunning in the water: a dog.

The animal swam toward the rig’s platform on Friday and clung to it as team members tried to figure out how to save him, Vitisak Payalaw, an offshore planner for Chevron Thailand Exploration & Production, told NPR.

Video that Payalaw posted on Facebook shows the shivering animal partially submerged in water, staring up at the workers.

Payalaw said he and three members of his team spent 15 minutes working to secure the dog with a rope and pull him up to safety. They were racing against time, he said, because the seas were becoming rougher.

The oil rig workers used a rope to…

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ODFW submits wolf management plan

Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting Blog


This Feb., 2017, file photo provided by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife showing a gray wolf of the Wenaha Pack in northern Wallowa County. (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife via AP, File)

With Oregon’s wolf population growing, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife on Monday issued a draft conservation and management plan that established a new timetable involving when wolves can be killed for preying on livestock.

The old plan allowed for hunts after two confirmed wolf depredations of livestock in an area. The new plan would allow hunts only after two confirmed depredations within a nine-month period, said Derek Broman, state carnivore biologist.

The new plan also includes a hefty section on how to attempt to resolve conflicts involving livestock without killing wolves, which environmental groups prefer, Broman said.

The goal of the 160-page proposal remains the…

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New evidence suggests volcanoes caused biggest mass extinction ever

New evidence suggests volcanoes caused biggest mass extinction ever
A volcanic eruption spells doom for a predatory gorgonopsid during the Permian Period. Credit: Margaret Weiner/UC Creative Services

Researchers say mercury buried in ancient rock provides the strongest evidence yet that volcanoes caused the biggest mass extinction in the history of the Earth.

Paleontologists with the University of Cincinnati and the China University of Geosciences said they found a spike in mercury in the geologic record at nearly a dozen sites around the world, which provides persuasive evidence that volcanic eruptions were to blame for this global cataclysm.

The study was published this month in the journal Nature Communications.

The eruptions ignited vast deposits of coal, releasing mercury vapor high into the atmosphere. Eventually, it rained down into the marine sediment around the planet, creating an elemental signature of a catastrophe that would herald the age of dinosaurs.

“Volcanic activities, including emissions of volcanic gases and combustion of organic matter, released abundant mercury to the surface of the Earth,” said lead author Jun Shen, an associate professor at the China University of Geosciences.

The  occurred at what scientists call the Permian-Triassic Boundary. The mass extinction killed off much of the terrestrial and marine life before the rise of dinosaurs. Some were prehistoric monsters in their own right, such as the ferocious gorgonopsids that looked like a cross between a sabre-toothed tiger and a Komodo dragon.

The eruptions occurred in a volcanic system called the Siberian Traps in what is now central Russia. Many of the eruptions occurred not in cone-shaped volcanoes but through gaping fissures in the ground. The eruptions were frequent and long-lasting and their fury spanned a period of hundreds of thousands of years.

“Typically, when you have large, explosive , a lot of mercury is released into the atmosphere,” said Thomas Algeo, a professor of geology in UC’s McMicken College of Arts and Sciences.

“Mercury is a relatively new indicator for researchers. It has become a hot topic for investigating volcanic influences on major events in Earth’s history,” Algeo said.

Researchers use the sharp fossilized teeth of lamprey-like creatures called conodonts to date the rock in which the mercury was deposited. Like most other creatures on the planet, conodonts were decimated by the catastrophe.

The eruptions propelled as much as 3 million cubic kilometers of ash high into the air over this extended period. To put that in perspective, the 1980  of Mount St. Helens in Washington sent just 1 cubic kilometer of ash into the atmosphere, even though ash fell on car windshields as far away as Oklahoma.

In fact, Algeo said, the Siberian Traps eruptions spewed so much material in the air, particularly greenhouse gases, that it warmed the planet by an average of about 10 degrees centigrade.

The warming climate likely would have been one of the biggest culprits in the mass extinction, he said. But  would have spoiled many bodies of water and raised the acidity of the global oceans. And the warmer water would have had more dead zones from a lack of dissolved oxygen.

“We’re often left scratching our heads about what exactly was most harmful. Creatures adapted to colder environments would have been out of luck,” Algeo said. “So my guess is temperature change would be the No. 1 killer. Effects would exacerbated by acidification and other toxins in the environment.”

Stretching over an extended period, eruption after eruption prevented the Earth’s food chain from recovering.

“It’s not necessarily the intensity but the duration that matters,” Algeo said. “The longer this went on, the more pressure was placed on the environment.”

Likewise, the Earth was slow to recover from the disaster because the ongoing disturbances continued to wipe out biodiversity, he said.

Earth has witnessed five known mass extinctions over its 4.5 billion years.

Scientists used another elemental signature—iridium—to pin down the likely cause of the global mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. They believe an enormous meteor struck what is now Mexico.

The resulting plume of superheated earth blown into the atmosphere rained down material containing iridium that is found in the geologic record around the world.

Shen said the mercury signature provides convincing evidence that the Siberian Traps eruptions were responsible for the catastrophe. Now researchers are trying to pin down the extent of the eruptions and which  in particular were most responsible for the mass die-off, particularly for land animals and plants.

Shen said the Permian extinction could shed light on how global warming today might lead to the next mass extinction. If global warming, indeed, was responsible for the Permian die-off, what does warming portend for humans and wildlife today?

“The release of carbon into the atmosphere by human beings is similar to the situation in the Late Permian, where abundant carbon was released by the Siberian eruptions,” Shen said.

Algeo said it is cause for concern.

“A majority of biologists believe we’re at the cusp of another mass extinction—the sixth big one. I share that view, too,” Algeo said. “What we should learn is this will be serious business that will harm human interests so we should work to minimize the damage.”

People living in marginal environments such as arid deserts will suffer first. This will lead to more climate refugees around the world.

“We’re likely to see more famine and mass migration in the hardest hit places. It’s a global issue and one we should recognize and proactively deal with. It’s much easier to address these problems before they reach a crisis.”

6 pressing questions about beef and climate change, answered

Exposing the Big Game

Cattle feed at a shed belonging to Kim Jin-cheon, 56, a farmer raising about 120 domestic cows, in Gapyeong, about 60 km (37 miles) east of Seoul, April 23, 2008. South Korea's decision to gradually open up to U.S. beef imports are set to hit local farmers hard, with some experts expecting around 14 percent fall this year in prices of home-grown cattle from a year earlier.  REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak (SOUTH KOREA) - GM1E44N0XWA01
How friendly is your food?
Image: REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak
This article is published in collaboration withEcoWatch

Beef and climate change are in the news these days, from cows’ alleged high-methane farts (fact check: they’re actually mostly high-methane burps) to comparisons with cars and airplanes (fact check: the world needs to reduce emissions from fossil fuels and agriculture to sufficiently rein in global…

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Hot March, Melting Sea Ice, Record High CO2, and a Weak El Nino 

robertscribbler

Good afternoon everyone. It’s April 15 of 2019. And it’s high time I provided another update on the present global climate state.

(Indicators explained.)

Yes, I’ve been off this cart for a bit due to my personal climate action that I’m calling extreme clean. And I’ve got to say that this action is in solidarity with the tens of thousands of young people who continue to demonstrate for a more responsible political response to climate change around the world.

Action of all kinds is very important. But political action is where the rubber is really going to meet the solar and wind powered EV road of the future. It’s what’s going to help us navigate a necessarily fast clean energy transition away from the carbon spewing fuels of the present. And the fossil fueled politicians like Trump are going to have to be kicked out for that to…

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Extinction Rebellion want to get arrested to fight climate change

Exposing the Big Game

An Extinction Rebellion protester blocking Blackfriars Bridge, in London, November 2018.

London (CNN)Earlier this month a group of climate change activists stripped down to their underwear in British parliament and glued their hands to the glass of the House of Commons’ public gallery.

Why? To get arrested.
Extinction Rebellion, a grassroots environmental group based in the UK, is responsible for a series of stunts that deliberately break the law to highlight the threat of climate change.
Since launching last year they have caused disruption by holding a “Funeral for our Future” outside Buckingham Palace, which led to 14 arrests, poured200 liters of fake blood outside Downing Street, and brought London to a standstill by shutting down five bridges.
So far Extinction Rebellion has counted 222 arrests…

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Thawing Siberian permafrost could see anthrax and prehistoric diseases come back to life as temperatures warm rapidly

 and create a breeding ground for dormant spores, scientist claims

  • Thawing Siberian permafrost may release viral spores buried for 2,500 years  
  • Buried mass animal graves that died of the disease could unleash an epidemic
  • Anthrax spores can lie dormant until temperature rises to 15°C  
  • ‘Methane bombs’ found in the region further accelerate disease spread 

The coldest city on Earth may unleash vast prehistoric stores of anthrax and other ancient diseases as the permafrost trapping its deadly spores slowly thaws out thanks to global warming.

Yakutsk, in north-east Russia, is completely frozen for 12 months a year but is currently being subjected to soaring global temperatures.

It is also home to ancient permafrost which has entombed and trapped prehistoric animals such as the now extinct species of wild horses and woolly mammoths.

These animals may have died from anthrax and other hideous prehistoric diseases and some scientists fear these the spores may be lying dormant, waiting for warmer temperatures to melt the ice and release them into the 21st century.

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A disease outbreak in 2016 killed thousands of reindeer and hundreds of people were hospitalised due to the ‘revival’ of ancient anthrax spores in the region.

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The city of Yakutsk pictured)  in the region of Yakutia in Siberia, known as the coldest city on earth where temperatures can reach below -60°C in the winter. It may be revealing its long-frozen secrets due to warming Arctic temperatures that could risk an epidemic being unleashed

The city of Yakutsk pictured)  in the region of Yakutia in Siberia, known as the coldest city on earth where temperatures can reach below -60°C in the winter. It may be revealing its long-frozen secrets due to warming Arctic temperatures that could risk an epidemic being unleashed

Around two-thirds of Russia is made up of permafrost – including almost all of the area known as Yakutia.

As permafrost continues to thaw, more ancient bacteria could be released. Permafrost is able to preserve for hundreds of thousands of years – possibly even a million.

Boris Kershengolts, a Yakutsk biologist told the Telegraph: ‘Anthrax spores can stay alive in the permafrost for up to 2,500 years. That’s scary given the thawing of animal burial grounds from the 19th century.

He added: ‘It would be a disaster not just for the Arctic.

‘The catastrophe could exceed Chernobyl.’

The ice in the Siberian region can be hundreds of feet deep and the top layer is known as the ‘active layer’ which freezes and refreezes throughout the year.

In recent years, researchers have found that this layer is not only thawing earlier in the year, it is also melting to greater depth, causing scientists to be concerned of potential collapses.

Increased snow precipitation experienced by most of the region in the last few decades also insulates the ground permafrost which is then a higher temperature than air temperature.

Current levels of permafrost shrinkage in the region is at the scale of up to two inches (5cm) a year.

The threat of epidemic is real, as a 2016 outbreak of Anthrax – the first outbreak for 70 years – in the Arctic in Yamal in Northwest Sibera was linked to thawing permafrost.

Scientists managed to isolate the Anthrax strains Bacillus anthracis and had independently isolated the strain in Yakutia in 2015, although no outbreak occurred there.

Scientists have compared a potential epidemic to being more 'catastrophic' than the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl. Ancient Siberian permafrost burying mass animal graves and a former Anthrax lab in the coldest city on Earth Yakutsk, could throw up dormant viral spores if it continues to melt

Scientists have compared a potential epidemic to being more ‘catastrophic’ than the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl. Ancient Siberian permafrost burying mass animal graves and a former Anthrax lab in the coldest city on Earth Yakutsk, could throw up dormant viral spores if it continues to melt

WHAT IS ANTHRAX?

Anthrax is the name of the potentially-deadly disease caused by the spores of bacteria Bacillus anthracis.

As the disease can survive in harsh climates, Anthrax spores have been weaponised by at least five countries: Britain, Japan, the United States, Russia and Iraq.

The disease can be contracted by touching, inhaling or swallowing spores, which can lie dormant in water and soil for years.

It is most deadly, however, when the spores are inhaled, which is why the threat of a letter containing the disease is taken very seriously by authorities.

About 80 per cent of people who inhale the spores will die, in some cases even with immediate medical intervention.

Sources: NHS and US Centers for Disease Control

Thawing permafrost is worsened by the presence of so-called ‘methane bombs’ underground.

They release large volumes of the natural gases which speeds up the melting of the permanently frozen land.

This creates vast crater-like structures which can trigger explosions and release heat.

Methane contains 30 times more energy than carbon dioxide and is a key greenhouse gas.

Permafrost - ground that has been frozen for at least two years - covers 25 per cent of the Northern Hemisphere, keeping ancient bacteria, viruses and carbon preserved and locked away, much like a freezer does. Pictured is a map of permafrost extent across Arctic region

Permafrost – ground that has been frozen for at least two years – covers 25 per cent of the Northern Hemisphere, keeping ancient bacteria, viruses and carbon preserved and locked away, much like a freezer does. Pictured is a map of permafrost extent across Arctic region

'Methane bombs' found locally could further aggravate the problem with by accelerating temperature rises and therefore the spread of disease. After the explosion they lead to the formation of bizarre Arctic craters. Pictured is a crater formed by a recent permafrost explosion in the Russian arctic

‘Methane bombs’ found locally could further aggravate the problem with by accelerating temperature rises and therefore the spread of disease. After the explosion they lead to the formation of bizarre Arctic craters. Pictured is a crater formed by a recent permafrost explosion in the Russian arctic

THREATS POSED BY THAWING PERMAFROST

Permafrost, mostly found in high-latitude regions like the Arctic, stores large quantities of carbon dioxide and methane, which are released into the atmosphere if the soil melts and decomposes.

As permafrost melts and releases gases into the atmosphere which cause warming, permafrost melts even more, releasing more of these gases such as methane and CO2, leading a positive feedback loop that worsens climate change.

But other threats posed by melting permafrost include:

  • Release of ancient microbes: In late August, an anthrax outbreak in Siberia caused 72 people to become sick, and killed a 12-year-old boy. This was because an anthrax-infected reindeer had thawed, releasing the bacteria.
  • Damaged landscapes and roads: When the ice in the permafrost thaws, the water runs off and the ground above can slump, deform, or fall apart. TheAlaska Dispatch News has reported that thawing permafrost is warping roads in Bethel, Alaska.
  • Loss of historical records: Thawing permaforst could also threaten natural historical records. For example, ‘Otzi’, a 5-300 year-old dead man found in the Alps, would not have been so well preserved if he had thawed.
As permafrost melts and releases gases into the atmosphere which cause warming, permafrost melts even more, releasing more of these gases such as methane and CO2, leading a positive feedback loop that worsens climate change

As permafrost melts and releases gases into the atmosphere which cause warming, permafrost melts even more, releasing more of these gases such as methane and CO2, leading a positive feedback loop that worsens climate change

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