Melting Glacier Reveals 28 New Virus Groups, Worrying Scientists

Image Credit: Pixabay

There are many reasons to lament the demise of glaciers around the world – for one, they are the visual proof that the earth is warming, no matter what the weather outside your window or the politicians in their offices want to claim.

For another, many of them have been around for millennia, and as they melt, things are thawing out of them that modern human beings have never encountered.


In 2015, researchers from China and the United States drilled a 164-foot hole into a Tibetan glacier, gathering 2 ice core samples to study in a lab. The 15,000-year-old glacier is melting, and the scientists have so far found 33 virus groups in their core sample.

28 of them are completely new to science.

These scientists and researchers are not alone; their peers around the world are desperately trying to identify potential microbial threats in the melting ice before they escape and put us on the spot.

Image Credit: Pixabay

The meltwater from glaciers and ice caps could release these potentially harmful pathogens into streams, rivers, and pretty much any other type of waterway…and once a previously unknown microbe finds its way into human beings, there’s no telling what might happen.

The permafrost around the world is melting, too, and presents similar microbial challenges. It’s also releasing an alarming amount of methane gas and carbon dioxide – it is estimated to hold twice as much carbon as currently resides in our atmosphere.


Researchers have pulled samples of smallpox, Spanish flu, bubonic plague, and even anthrax from thawing permafrost, along with pollutants like mercury, all previously trapped inside permanently frozen ground.

There are important buildings in jeopardy, too, as thawing ground begins to result in more slumping or sagging of previously hardened earth. In Sweden, for example, there is a nuclear waste containment facility that could be in danger, and in Norway, the world’s global seed vault, built to safeguard seeds against exactly this kind of environmental impact, could itself be threatened.


Basically, we’ve only encountered the tip of the iceberg (pun intended) when it comes to the potential disastrous effects of global warming – not only on the planet, but on humanity, too.

I don’t know about you, but the idea that I could get smallpox is one more reason I want to do my part.