Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What Might Emerge from Greenland's Rapidly Melting Ice Caps?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What Might Emerge from Greenland's Rapidly Melting Ice Caps?

Article excerpt

Climate change is bringing a lot of first-time environmental challenges, as well as many unprecedented political challenges.

And one such climate change challenge could be particularly political.

Greenland's ice sheet is melting at a rapid pace. According to a new study published Wednesday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, this significant snow and ice loss could cause buried toxic waste to resurface unexpectedly.

Camp Century was a US military base built on and under the Greenland ice sheet in 1959 to test nuclear missiles during the height of the cold war. But the United States decommissioned the military base in 1967, leaving behind the various waste from a nuclear reactor such as gasoline, sewage, and radioactive coolant. The US, along with Denmark who controlled Greenland at the time, did not think much of the buried waste, assuming continual snowfall would only bury the remnants deeper.

But now scientists say the waste, which is currently about 115 feet below the surface of the ice, will resurface in as little as 75 years.

"Our study highlights that Camp Century now possesses unanticipated political significance in light of anthropogenic climate change," the paper's authors write. "The potential remobilization of wastes that were previously regarded as properly sequestered, or preserved for eternity, is an instance, possibly the first, of a potentially new pathway to political dispute associated with climate change."

Now, as study lead author William Colgan told Smithsonian magazine, "We've gone from 'eternity' to 'we really need to start thinking about this.' "

When the toxic remnants are exposed to the open ocean, surrounding ecosystems will likely suffer devastating consequences. And while removing the waste is necessary, the process will also be extremely costly.

Political disputes may occur when deciding who holds the responsibility to pursue the expensive clean-up project. …

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