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Ancient Viruses Trapped in Glaciers for Thousands of Years Could Be Released By Climate Crisis: Study

"We've opened up a Pandora's box with climate change."

Glaciers like the Sawyer Glacier in Alaska, pictured here in July 2016, are melting around the world—possibly releasing viruses and microbes into the air.

Glaciers like the Sawyer Glacier in Alaska, pictured here in July 2016, are melting around the world—possibly releasing viruses and microbes into the air. (Photo: Ian Keating, Flickr/cc)

A new study of ice cores in glaciers in the autonomous Chinese region of Tibet reveals that the ice floes are holding viruses previously unencountered by humans, raising the possibility of the microbes being released as the climate crisis continues. 

"We've opened up a Pandora's box with climate change," observed one Twitter user. 

The report, "Glacier ice archives fifteen-thousand-year-old viruses," was published in the journal bioRxiv in early January by the scientists who examined the cores. It is awaiting peer review.

According to NBC News:

The experiment revealed 33 groups of virus genuses (also known as genera) in the ice cores. Of these, 28 were previously unknown to science, the researchers said. "The microbes differed significantly across the two ice cores," the researchers wrote in the study, "presumably representing the very different climate conditions at the time of deposition."

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The researchers warn that, "in a worst case scenario," these and possibly other pathogens could be released as the climate crisis melts glaciers around the world.

In their paper's conclusion, the scientists sound the alarm over the warming climate.

"Glaciers around the world are rapidly shrinking, primarily due to the anthropogenic-enhanced warming of Earth's ocean-atmosphere system, and this will release glacial microbes and viruses that have been trapped and preserved for tens to hundreds of thousands of years," they write.

News of the microbes led a number of people on social media to start preparing for the apocalypse.

"Well, it was nice knowing everyone but 'finding ancient viruses in a glacier' is absolutely the beginning of the end," tweeted author S.E. Smith.

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