Saturday, August 20, 2016

Scary and Gross - 3 Disturbing Consequences of a Warming Planet - by Katharine Hayhoe

Nenets herders are seen with reindeer at a camping ground in far-northern Russia on Aug. 2, 2015. (Credit: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters) Click to Enlarge.
What do anthrax-riddled reindeer corpses, a pile of flaming horse manure, and thawing cold war waste at a top-secret military base in Greenland have in common? These are just three of the increasingly bizarre and disturbing impacts of a warming climate that made headlines this summer.  Climate scientists like myself are always trying to anticipate the unexpected - but the full implications of a warming planet are starting to catch even us by surprise.

So what’s going on?  Let’s start with the anthrax.  Some 75 years ago, an anthrax outbreak swept across Siberia, killing around a million reindeer.  Because the ground there is permafrost, those reindeer were buried in shallow mass graves across northern Russia.  This summer has been an exceptionally warm one on the Yamal Peninsula, a piece of land that juts out into the Kara Sea north of the Arctic Circle.  The mercury there hit 93 degrees in July, some 14 degrees above normal.  During this heatwave, at least one of those reindeer corpses remerged from the thawing permafrost.  The anthrax spores inside it proved viable, and sparked a new outbreak.  To date, one person—a 12-year-old boy—has died, 72 people have been hospitalized, and at least 2,300 reindeer have perished.

“It sounds like an episode of Game of Thrones but in fact, it’s another wake-up call that global warming is entering a new and disturbing phase,” writes Hilary Bambrick, a bioanthropologist whose research focuses on the health impacts of climate change.  Perhaps the worst part about this anthrax outbreak is it will likely reoccur as the permafrost keeps melting.  And there are untold other viruses and bacteria locked in the permafrost, including smallpox.  “We really don’t know what’s buried up there,” Birgitta Evengard, a microbiologist at Umea University in Sweden, told NPR.  “This is Pandora’s box.”

Read more at Scary and Gross - 3 Disturbing Consequences of a Warming Planet

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