Ancient diseases in the Siberian permafrost could “be a danger to us,” scientists warn

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Scientists claim Russia is warming at least 2.5 times faster than the rest of the world, and at the heart of the problem is the Siberian permafrost, which could potentially unleash ancient diseases.

The situation is dire

Some scientists claim that rapid global warming could lead to ice-free summers in the Arctic by early 2030. As the journal Nature reported, one example of how dark things could be was noted in 2014 after a 30,000-year-old virus was “revived” from melting Siberian.

While this particular disease was not dangerous, scientists are on alert for “Disease X.” It is an “epidemic [that] could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease,” and a frozen virus might trigger such a pandemic.

One incident happened in 2016 after an outbreak of anthrax, which was uncovered by the thawing of a layer of permafrost on which a reindeer corpse was lying. That incident killed one boy and sent thousands to hospital, but it did not create worldwide problems. Scientists have uncovered over 400,000-year-old microbes in permafrost, and that’s just the beginning.

The presence of uncertainty

A study from 2021 concluded that a single gram of permafrost hosts thousands of microbes, Bloomberg reported. Since these are ancient diseases, humans do not have immunity or medications, but the scariest part is the unpredictability of what’s beneath.

Virologist Jean-Michel Claverie told Bloomberg, “We realize there might be some danger coming from the north as the permafrost thaws and frees microbes, bacteria, and viruses.” He added, “If Neanderthals died of an unknown viral disease and this virus resurfaces, it could be a danger to us.”

Monitoring frozen viruses

Bloomberg also talked to WHO spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris, who shared, “WHO works with 300+ scientists to look at the evidence on all viral families and bacteria that can cause epidemics and pandemics, including those that may be released with the thawing of permafrost.”

Apart from Siberia, Alaska and parts of Canada are being observed, but it is not only due to fear of potentially deadly diseases. For example, Siberian permafrost is turning parts of the tundra into muddy landscapes and causing long-lasting changes to flora that could end some animal species.

Heat-trapping gas could lead to more wildfires in the Arctic, while Mercury in the permafrost could cause havoc to soil, water, and wildlife. Many scientists have issued warnings decades ago, but even they are surprised at the speed at which the planet is heating up.