Tibetan glacier holds a worrying surprise of 28 unknown viruses
One of the many side effects of global warming
It is getting warmer, no doubt about that. Having lived since 1981 on my Spanish farm, I have seen the changes myself. Seasons go missing. The small almond tree in front of my house, instead of blossoming in February, now is full of pretty flowers starting in January.
The change of climate, the fact it is getting warmer worldwide, can bring forth surprises and they may not be good. All over the globe, glaciers are melting and at an alarming rate. Some have even disappeared altogether, like what happened last year in Iceland.
I came across some unsettling news and thought I should tell you about it. I am sure you know that the Tibetan Plateau of China has glaciers. These glaciers are over 15,000 years old and it seems that there are at least 28 previously unknown viruses that have been hiding there.
When viruses are unknown to modern humans, it means there are no methods to combat these viruses. They have the potential to seriously impact our health and world. Some may only inconvenience us, but there is the possibility of mutating to a very dangerous form. It has already happened in Siberia.
2 Ice cores are being analyzed
The 28 unknown virus groups were found in 2 ice cores collected from this Tibetan glacier. This discovery confirms to scientists that viruses are able to survive in different climatic conditions. I do hope they keep these viruses under strict control. Just imagine that they escape from the lab or are stolen, weaponized, and used to cause harm. Here is a copy of the study of the 28 unknown viruses for you to review but be advised that it is very scientific.
When ice that is tens of thousands of years old melts, all sorts of unknown things can come to light. Many of these pathogens may be unrecognized by our scientists and no medicine exists that can combat them. That is why one should study these viruses to be halfway prepared and know what is coming at us.
One ice core sample was collected in 1992 and a new one in 2015, but at those times, no special care was taken during the drilling or handling and transport. That means those ice cores were not clean. Even if the inside was pristine, the exterior was contaminated by the handling.
In a room where the temperature was maintained at 23 F (minus 5C) a sterilized band saw was used to cut away a thin layer of ice. Then the sample was washed with ethanol which melted some more on the outside. The last step that was taken was a bath with sterile water. The total procedure removed about 0.6 inches (1.5 cm) of outside ice.
In total, 33 groups of viruses were discovered, but 28 of them were unknown to the researchers.
More surprises are hidden in ice
There still are many places on earth that have snow and ice like in the Antarctic. In 2019 something unusual was found in the Antarctic snow. When a star explodes, it produces the isotope iron-60. Snow collected at a German research station in Antarctica was transported to Germany via South Africa by ship and plane, in Styrofoam boxes to keep them below freezing conditions.
There, the researchers melted the snow and the remaining solids were put into an incinerator. The scientists were in for a surprise as when the ashes were analyzed, they found the isotope iron-60. This element is abundant in space but rare on our planet.
When a star explodes, this radioactive form of iron is created. It is considered stardust and has been found before. In 1999 it was first detected on the floor of the Pacific Ocean.
A woolly mammoth found in Siberia permafrost
Yuka, the name given by researchers, was a 6 to 9 years old woolly mammoth that lived some 39,000 years ago. She was discovered in August 2010 on the Laptev Sea coast near Yukagir, Russia. This find was one of a kind as the brain was mostly intact so researchers could study it with computed tomography and magnetic resonance.
It is thought that mammoths had similar behavior as modern elephants. Previous to this find, 2 other baby woolly mammoths had been found in the Siberian permafrost in 2007 and 2009. They were named Lyuba and Khroma but their brains were not so well preserved as Yuka’s.
Life found deep under the ice
This is a story that really made me think. So many things remain unknown as they are covered in ice. As the ice is melting at an alarming rate, one does not know what will happen. What is sure, is we better try to be as prepared as possible, even if it all sounds a bit like science fiction.
Take the following story as an example. The European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft discovered signs of a buried lake of liquid saltwater. One does not know yet what this water contains but I am sure before too long we will find out.
Lake Mercer and it’s secret
Here on earth, a similar situation was found. Deep below the West Arctic ice sheet is a lake. This lake is a few hundred miles from the South Pole and contains bacterial life. Lots of it. When you take the harsh environmental conditions into consideration, this is quite amazing.
This ice-covered lake is huge, 54 square miles (139 square kilometers). Lake Mercer holds enough organic matter to possibly support higher life-forms, microscopic animals like tardigrades.
Here, on this Youtube video, you can see what a tardigrade is, an amazing tiny animal.
Just imagine, the borehole was 3504 feet (1,068 meters) deep and it remained open for 10 days. 15 gallons of water and a sediment core of more than 16 feet were taken. With these samples, one hopes to unravel the dark secrets of Lake Mercer.
These are just a few examples of finds in the ice. Many more secrets are lying deep down, frozen for thousands of years. Climate change will uncover one after the other and hopefully, we are prepared. Otherwise, the human race should better morph into a tardigrade to be able to survive on our planet. Do you think we will survive? Let me know in your comments what your opinion is.
Source: LiveScience, article by Laura Geggel, Associate Editor, January 2020
Photo Source: Pixabay
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